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Guest Voz: New research shows most people harbor automatic biases against Latino immigrants

Guest Voz: New research shows most people harbor automatic biases against Latino immigrants

LatinaLista -- One of the most common defensive remarks by people who are vehemently supportive of anti-immigrant bills like Arizona's SB 1070 is that they are not against legal immigration but illegal immigration.


However, a new study by Vanderbilt University Political Scientist Efrén Pérez found that the statement is not entirely true. In fact, Pérez found that in most people's minds there is little distinction between Latino immigrants and Latinos born in the United States. Also, when the subject of immigration is raised, people automatically think of Latino immigrants.

For his study titled "Explicit Evidence on the Import of Implicit Attitudes: The IAT and Immigration Policy Judgments," due to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Political Behavior, Perez designed an immigrant implicit association test or IAT. Through surveys he conducted using the IAT, he was able to analyze his findings to determine people's automatic attitudes towards Latino immigrants.

Vanderbilt Political Scientist Efren Perez

His findings demonstrate that immigration reform may be an even harder issue in which to find common ground than people think.

(Editor's note: The following is a condensed version of Dr. Pérez's fascinating study. Due to word length, the footnotes and other citations are not included. To read the full study and see exactly what Dr. Pérez uncovered in his analysis, I urge you to follow up with him to read the full study.)



Import of Implicit Attitudes: The IAT and Immigration Policy Judgments
By Efrén Pérez

Growing scholarship suggests racial biases are more ingrained and widespread than is typically presumed because they are implicit -- that is, they color one's behavior automatically, without one's control or awareness.

Using a psychological technique known as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), I demonstrate that many individuals possess an automatic negative attitude toward Latino immigrants that is applied to legal and illegal immigration policy judgments -- even if this group is not directly mentioned by policy proposals.

As a political issue, immigration stimulates various individual predispositions,
including one's economic concerns, ideological principles, and commitments to
legal norms. Yet immigration is also an arena where intolerance toward foreigners plays a critical role in motivating opposition to immigration.

Public discourse on immigration, whether through media reports or academic
scholarship, showcases this group as one whose presence imperils national culture and the well-being of native-born workers, among other things. Indeed, recent work by Brader et al. demonstrates that news reports cueing Latino immigrants are more likely to boost public opposition to immigration.

Moreover, by highlighting this group's contribution to undocumented immigration,
this discourse presents Latino immigrants as a force that subverts law and order. All of which is to say that it is not unreasonable to expect Americans to automatically hold Latino immigrants in low regard. According to this view, then, judgments of immigration policy are implicitly shaped by one's attitude toward Latino immigrants.


Yet there are other compelling perspectives about the nature of intolerance
toward foreigners. And while not mutually exclusive of the implicit view of
intolerance toward Latino immigrants, they nevertheless raise questions about the
extent to which attitudes toward Latino immigrants are distinct from attitudes
toward other immigrant groups.

The first of these perspectives is that while negative attitude toward Latino immigrants might exist, it is only one component of a more general negative attitude toward foreigners, namely, ethnocentrism. In other words, inasmuch as one derogates Latino immigrants, one is likely to derogate other groups of foreigners as well, such as Asian immigrants.

As Kam and Kinder explain, ethnocentrism is a way of viewing the world and the social groups within it. In particular, this mode of thinking is theorized to produce contemptuous and denigrating views of outgroups, including immigrants.

Indeed, these authors demonstrate that ethnocentrism is a strong determinant of individual support for immigration policy proposals, such as decreasing overall immigration levels, requiring immigrants to wait for government benefits (e.g., Medicaid), and making English the official language of the U.S..

These insights therefore suggest that it is not so much negative attitude toward Latino immigrants, specifically, but rather, negative attitude toward a gamut of foreigners, which
propels opposition to immigration.

My analysis reveals that implicit attitudes toward Latino immigrants shape preferences for illegal and legal immigration policy net of other measures of intolerance and net of measures capturing strictly political concerns, such as one's ideological orientation.

What is remarkable is that even after controlling for ethnocentric attitudes -- which are explicit in nature and broadly applied to immigrant outgroups -- implicit attitudes still exerted a direct influence on one's immigration policy judgments.

This suggests two things. The first is that individuals are quite comfortable reporting negative views of immigrants, and that these views strongly affect judgments of immigration policy. The second, however, is that implicit attitudes toward immigrants appear to be more group-specific in nature yet nonetheless influential in political decision-making.

Together, these insights teach us that attitudes which are spontaneously activated matter as much in theoretical and empirical terms as those attitudes that are fully within one's introspection.

Indeed, the findings here suggest that, notwithstanding their differences in scope,
attitudes toward immigrants originate from conscious as well as subconscious

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