Can attitudes toward immigrants be shaped using a prime?

Claudia Burger, Fordham University


The study focused on ethnocultural empathy and the role it plays in attitudes toward immigrants and immigration. Ethnocultural empathy plays a central role in the work of counseling, and is essential to work with people across cultures. The researcher attempted to evoke empathy for immigrants in general by using a prime that would remind a reader of an immigrant from their own ethnic background (Irish or Italian). A control prime to evoke empathy described a young man's struggle to lose weight. After exposure to one of three prime conditions, participants were asked to complete questionnaires that measured their attitudes toward immigrants and immigration, tolerance of immigrants, and ethnocultural empathy. Overall, the vignettes did not impact tolerance and attitudes about immigrants. It was hypothesized that empathy would moderate the relationship between prime condition and tolerance of immigrants. Support was not found for this hypothesis, although empathy, particularly as measured by scale subdimensions acceptance of cultural differences and empathic awareness, was a significant and positive predictor of tolerance of immigrants. The researcher did not find the hypothesized negative relationship between generation status and empathy and tolerance of immigrants, however differences between generations on the perspective taking subdimension of the Scale of Ethnocultural Empathy (SEE) approached significance. Empathy, specifically empathic feeling and expression, was significantly lower for Italian-Americans who read the immigrant prime than for those who read the control, adding additional support to research that interventions which invoke the Common Ingroup Identity Model can backfire. The analysis also revealed that non-Irish-American readers of the immigrant vignette reported significantly greater levels of empathic awareness than their counterparts who read the control vignette, suggesting that this type of intervention holds promise to increase empathic awareness.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Counseling Psychology

Recommended Citation

Burger, Claudia, "Can attitudes toward immigrants be shaped using a prime?" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3468249.