Cultural Psychologist Michele Gelfand on American and Pakistani Stereotypes
Americans see Pakistanis as "aggressive and violent" while Pakistanis say Americans are "loose, immoral and arrogant", according to research study findings of American cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand. She told an interviewer that the American media portrayed Pakistanis as "big bad wolf". Gelfand is a distinguished professor at the University of Maryland. She studies why different cultures accept different levels of rule-making.
|Cultural Psychologist Michele Gelfand, Author of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers|
In an interview with Kara Swisher of Recode, Gelfand said Americans and Pakistanis usually "meet in the media". In other words, their perceptions of each other are based on media stereotyping of the two nations. "Pakistanis think Americans are half naked all the time. They don’t just think we’re loose, they think we’re exceedingly loose", she said. Gelfand found that Americans "don’t think about Pakistanis as playing sports or reading poetry. They think about them as excessively tight". Here's an excerpt of Gelfand's book titled "Rule Makers, Rule Breakers":
"My research similarly shows that creating spaces for empathy can prove invaluable for combating intergroup hostility. In 2015, my research assistants and I interviewed Americans and Pakistanis on their views of each other’s culture. We found that both groups held highly negative beliefs and stereotypes about the other. Pakistanis didn’t just see Americans as loose, but as immoral and arrogant. Americans saw Pakistanis as overly constrained, but also aggressive and violent. As impressions are often formed through the media, which thrives on caricature, such extreme stereotyping is perhaps not surprising. What’s more, we tend to live in our own echo chambers. Even on Twitter and Facebook, we communicate with those we know and those who share our views, rather than engaging with people from other cultures. In our study, we wondered if we could lessen intergroup intergroup hostility by giving each group a more realistic window into each other’s lives. We didn’t have the budget to fly Pakistanis to the United States or vice versa. But what if Americans were able to read the actual daily diaries of Pakistanis, and Pakistanis were able to read the diaries of Americans, over the course of a week? Would this exposure to one another’s day-to-day lives change their attitudes? To find out, my collaborator Joshua Jackson and I had American and Pakistani students write about their everyday experiences for one week. We then gave a new group of participants, including a hundred American and a hundred Pakistani students, a set of these diary entries to read over the course of a week. The results of this low-cost intervention were striking: As compared with participants who read diary entries from members of their own culture, participants who read diary entries written by members of the other culture viewed the two cultures as being much more similar. What’s more, Pakistani participants who read Americans’ diaries viewed Americans as more moral and as having less of a sense of superiority over other cultures. And, by the end of this intervention, our American participants who read diaries written by Pakistanis viewed Pakistanis as less violent and more fun-loving. “I don’t know many Pakistanis personally, but the diary entries helped me learn about the everyday life of someone in Pakistan,” one American participant wrote at the study’s end. “I think that they tend to be a bit more religious than the people in America, but have similar life patterns and personalities to us.” Likewise, a Pakistani participant remarked, “Americans may be different than us in moral, ethical, or religious values, but the lives of students in America are very similar to the life of a student here . . . They are law-abiding citizens, which is one of the reasons the system in America is working smoothly.” As these quotes show, interventions that improve our understanding of people from other cultures hold tremendous promise for defusing stereotypes, heading off conflict, and resolving intercultural disputes. Every day, citizens are finding meaningful ways to interact with people far outside their own social circles. In 2017, the Washington Post reported that, in a Dairy Queen in Dallas, Texas, two American-born men decided to have a sit-down over burgers and fries to untangle their mutual suspicion. On one end, there was David Wright, a white man who had founded a militia called the Bureau of American Islamic Relations (BAIR) with the mission of rooting out Islamic terrorists in Texas. At the other end was Ali Ghouri, a member of a local mosque where Wright and his coalition had protested twice with weapons and signs reading “Stop the Islamization of America.” Against the advice of other members of his mosque, Ghouri confronted the protesters, saying, “I have a weapon. You have a weapon. I’m not scared of you.” Five months later, Wright and Ghouri met at the Dairy Queen. Each man brought a friend—and a gun".
The study by Michele Gelfand and Joshua Conrad Jackson, a PhD students at the University of North Carolina, started with 10 Americans and 10 Pakistanis — who were about 24 years old on average — submitting diaries over a one-week period. Gelfand and Jackson then recruited 100 Pakistanis and 100 Americans — who were about 21 years old on average — to read a Pakistani or American diary every day for one week, telling the participants the diaries were for a social memory study. Before and after reading the diaries, the participants rated how much they believe a particular stereotype about the opposite culture. If a participant read a diary from their own culture, they rarely changed their attitudes about the other culture. But when participants read diaries from the opposite culture, researchers found they felt less prejudice toward it — results Gelfand called “amazing.” “They tended to see each other as more human, as more similar,” Gelfand said. “They still saw each other as different, but they really, really changed the way that they viewed each other.”
Gelfand and Jackson's diary reading intervention helped both Pakistanis and Americans have a better understanding of each other. Here's how she describes it in her book "Rules Makers, Rules Breakers": "Pakistani participants who read Americans’ diaries viewed Americans as more moral and as having less of a sense of superiority over other cultures. And, by the end of this intervention, our American participants who read diaries written by Pakistanis viewed Pakistanis as less violent and more fun-loving".
Here's a video clip of CNN analyst Van Jones talking about Pakistani-Americans:
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