Negative press gives asylum seekers a bad name

November 09, 2006

The negative portrayal of asylum seekers in the press has a direct and immediate adverse impact on readers' assumptions about asylum seekers in general. A new study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and conducted by a team of researchers at Thames Valley and Sussex Universities explored readers' thoughts and behaviours toward asylum seekers immediately after reading press coverage. Findings suggest that the effect of negative stereotypes is often unconscious and automatic, even among people with relatively low levels of prejudice.

"Our important discovery is that negative, especially tabloid media coverage plays an important role in both creating and facilitating the use of negative stereotypes in our everyday lives," says researcher Dr Catherine Lido. "Sometimes we may act in line with a common cultural stereotype, without intending to, or even being aware we have done so."

Dr Lido adds, "we found that being shown negative newspaper articles linking asylum seekers to criminality can result in negative judgements about asylum seekers in general. On the other hand, neutral or even positive newspaper coverage of asylum seekers has no similarly positive impact on readers' views."

In this study, negative newspaper articles always had a clear negative effect. The reason that positive ones did not have a positive effect, argue researchers, is perhaps due to there being few strong positive associations with asylum seekers within British culture.

"The finding that simply reading a newspaper article that presents a negative component of a social group can have such ramifications on people's thoughts and behaviours is quite profound, especially when a positive portrayal of a stereotyped group fails to immediately counteract negative stereotypes," suggests Lido.

These findings are based on a series of experiments, conducted by Raff Calitri and Dr Rupert Brown and Alain Samson and led by Dr. Catherine Lido, in which students at two British universities read mock newspaper articles portraying asylum seekers in either a negative for example as dishonest, criminal or positive light. A 'control group' was exposed to a neutral article that had nothing to do with asylum seekers. Participants then completed tasks, presented to them as unrelated studies, measuring real-world behaviour involving asylum seekers and criminality.

In one experiment, with a diverse student sample, participants were asked to rate asylum seeker applications. Compared to the neutral group, having read negative newspaper articles about asylum seekers resulted in a lower likelihood of granting asylum. Those who were shown positive articles were affected no differently from those who read neutral ones.
-end-
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Dr Catherine Lido on 07781 924042 or 01273 889864
Email: Catherine.Lido@tvu.ac.uk or
Dr Raff Calitri on 01793 295679/01792 295 679 Email: R.Calitri@swansea.ac.uk
Alexandra Saxon at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119 or
Email: alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. The research project 'Effects of the media priming positive and negative asylum-seeker stereotypes on thoughts and behaviours' was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The researchers are Catherine Lido (Thames Valley University), Raff Calitri (University of Wales, Swansea), Alain Samson (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Rupert Brown (University of Sussex).

  2. Research methods included five psychological experiments during which participants were primed with a newspaper article and then measured for evidence of implicit, behavioural and explicit stereotypes. Statistical results were derived mainly from ANOVA tests.

  3. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2006-07 is £169 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

  4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

  5. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as 'good'


Economic & Social Research Council

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