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What's Behind Negative Attitudes Toward Immigrants? Study Cites 'Group Narcissism'

Thomas M Spindle
UT Arlington researchers have linked feelings of superiority and entitlement to Americans who have negative attitudes towards undocumented Latino immigrants.

Dissecting prejudice is about as easy as picking apart a pomegranate. It’s a messy task that researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington have been working on for years.

They surveyed 223 students, and found two key factors among people with the highest level of prejudice toward undocumented immigrants:

  • Group identification – when someone’s individual identity is strongly tied to their membership in a group, like being American.
  • Group narcissism – feelings of superiority that go beyond patriotism.

Associate psychology professor Jared Kenworthy, who co-wrote the study with researcher Patricia Lyons, says the goal was to predict negative attitudes towards undocumented immigrants, specifically Latinos.

The danger with negative attitudes, Kenworthy says, is that people who have such feelings are more likely to engage in discriminatory behavior. For example, he says: “keeping people out of housing, or preventing certain kinds of people from jobs because they may be profiled.”

This paper, which will be published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science, doesn’t look at how to change negative attitudes. But Kenworthy says past research shows one of the best ways to improve relationships between different groups is through contact.

“That’s kind of a paradox with undocumented Latino immigrants,” he says, “because you often don’t know who’s undocumented and who isn’t. So it’s kind of a tricky situation.”

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.