Religion, Nationality, and Empathetic Responses to Refugees

Is empathetic media effective in shifting readers’ attitudes toward refugee policies? Do emotional responses differ between individuals who are exposed to accounts of refugees with different religions and national origins? To shed light on these questions, we present the results of two recent survey experiments conducted in the United Kingdom. The experiments measured the emotional responses, opinions, and willingness to engage in political action among UK residents. Treatments exposed these citizens to empathetic articles about refugees, whose descriptions varied in nationality (Sudanese/Syrian) and religion (Christian/Muslim/Religion omitted). Comparison with a placebo control group showed that empathetic appeals indeed induce empathy in media consumers and encourage more slightly open attitudes toward refugee admission, but not for individuals with strong preexisting prejudice against refugees. Treatment effects had a noticeable interaction with pre-treatment outgroup antipathy; in fact, treated respondents with high prior antipathy hardly differed from the control group in emotions, opinions, and behavior.

Project collaborators/co-authors: Reed Rasband, Christopher Karpowitz

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Joshua Gubler
Associate Professor of Political Science

Joshua Gubler is a comparative political psychologist studying intergroup cooperation and conflict, affect, emotion, persuasion, and motivation.