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Help Immigrants by Showing How 'They' Are 'We'

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Immigrants protest and march


In the last four decades, the worldwide immigrant population has more than doubled. Many native-borns view their new neighbors as outsiders, and so do not help them, which can lead immigrants to feel "culturally homeless."


Showing native-borns how they are similar to immigrants inspires the former to offer aid to the latter.


To increase native-borns’ support of immigrants, psychologist Jonas Kunst and his colleagues first randomly assigned 102 European-American adults to one of three groups: the common group condition, the separate group condition, or the control condition.

In the common group condition, participants read a passage that portrayed U.S. citizens and immigrants as belonging to the same group. For example, “Because we are all immigrants or descend directly from the immigrants who came to this country and built it, the United States of America and all its citizens are a true and proud product of immigration.”

In the separate group condition, participants read a passage that portrayed U.S. citizens and immigrants as coming from two distinct groups. For example, “The fact that we descend directly from the people who built this country makes us true and proud citizens of the United States of America.”

In the control condition, participants did not read anything about U.S. citizens or immigrants.

Next, researchers gave each participant a small amount of money to divide between a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—an organization that aids immigrants—and as payment to themselves. The researchers found that participants in the common group condition donated more money to the ACLU than did participants in the separate group condition and the control condition.

Why This Works

People like to help members of their own groups more than they like to help outsiders. Showing native-borns their similarities with immigrants makes them feel like they belong to the same group, increasing native-borns’ desire to aid immigrants.

When This Works Best

This intervention works best when differences between citizens and immigrants are not emphasized. In another study by the same authors, people who thought about similarities as well as differences between native-borns and immigrants were not as motivated to help immigrants as people who thought only about similarities. 

Try It Yourself

SPARQTools United States of Immigrants

The Original Study 

Kunst, J. R., Thomsen, L., Sam, D. L., & Berry, J. W. (2015). “We are in this together”: Common group identity predicts majority members’ active acculturation efforts to integrate immigrants. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41,1438-1453.

Related Topics

Civil Society Conflict Resolution


Text by Brittany Torrez

Photo CC by Thomas Hawk