In cohesive societies people trust each other, feel part of a shared identity and are able to work together to create a common good. In turn, these societies tend to be happier, richer and more peaceful.
However, multicultural societies face particular challenges in building social cohesion, as people tend to be less trusting of others who are different from themselves. This erosion of trust is even greater where segregation exists between groups.
In the UK, while minority populations have become more dispersed across the country, they have also, in some cases, become more segregated. This is particularly apparent in schools, where more than half of children from ethnic minorities attend schools where ethnic minorities form the majority.
Unfortunately, evidence suggests that existing approaches to promote integration have had limited impact to date.
To overcome segregation and create strong, cohesive societies, we need to understand what does and does not work. That’s why we’re publishing a new report today, with partners at the Migration Policy Institute, on how behavioural science can help to foster cohesion and integration – and, importantly, build a solid evidence base for future policy.
We give several examples in the report, including:
- Encouraging shared identities: we prefer people like ourselves and, while this tendency can be weakened in some circumstances, there is little evidence that it can be eradicated. There is, however, evidence that group affiliation is malleable and that we are able to conceive ourselves as members of multiple overlapping groups. This can be achieved by, for example, highlighting shared identities – two men as fathers rather than of different races; or creating new groups – sports teams can be very effective at breaking down divides.
- Supporting self-image and beliefs: People who are confident in their beliefs and identity are less defensive and more open to alternative viewpoints. Re-affirming people’s self-image and beliefs can not only help to reduce prejudice between groups, but it can also lessen the effects of confirmation bias and group-think. Both are important factors in building a vibrant, plural society.
- Citizenship ceremonies: achieving citizenship is an important milestone in civic integration, and ceremonies to mark the occasion have the potential to be more meaningful for both newcomers and the wider population. These ceremonies are a timely and symbolic touch-point to encourage more active citizenship, by for example, encouraging voter registration and volunteering. They can also be an opportunity for existing citizens to witness the value and loyalty that newcomers attach to the citizen status, highlighting shared identities and promoting greater tolerance towards newcomers.
We are currently trialing these ideas with schools and local governments around the UK, and we plan to report the initial findings earlier next year.