National Stereotypes Reflect International Conflicts

November 02, 1998

Stereotypes of different nationalities would seem to be determined by the economic and competitive relations between nations. Well-educated young people consider nations which do not constitute a threat to be "fair". They also consider the citizens of prosperous nations to be "competent". These are among the results of a large-scale study of the opinions of more than a thousand young people in Eastern and Central Europe. The study was carried out by Utrecht University social scientists and funding was provided by the NWO's Social Science Research Council (MAGW ).

During the course of the NWO study, eleven hundred young people in Russia, Byelarus, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic were asked to state how honest, tolerant, aggressive, selfish, awkward, lethargic, efficient or intelligent they considered Russians, Byelorussians, Poles, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Czechs, Germans, Britons and Italians. The respondents were aged between 16 and 18 and were in the top classes at high school. The social scientists conducting the study divided the various different characteristics up into a "competence" group and a "morality" group on the basis of statistical similarities. The results show that the young people see various nationalities as competent or moral on the basis of the perceived economic characteristics of those countries and competition between those countries and their own.

Competence as a stereotype quality of a certain nationality mirrors the economic power of that nation, while the quality of morality reflects the mutual relationships between nations. The economic power of a country is taken to reflect the intelligence of its inhabitants and the efficiency they display at work. Germans, Britons, and Italians won high marks for competence, whereas respondents thought Poles, Hungarians and Czechs were awkward. Russians, Byelorussians and Bulgarians were considered the least competent.

The level of honesty, tolerance, aggression and selfishness with which each nationality was credited depended on the threat posed by the nation in terms of size, nationalism and conflicting interests. The young people considered that the peoples of small countries where there is little nationalism were in general more honest, tolerant, less aggressive and less selfish. Italians, Russians and Germans were considered less moral than Britons, Czechs, Hungarians, Byelorussians, Poles and Bulgarians.

The political and economic changes in Eastern Europe have aroused nationalism in the countries studied. It is likely that nationalities will come to be judged more positively in terms of morality and competence after the impending changes in European relationships have taken place, such as the countries of Central and Eastern Europe joining the European Union and NATO.

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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