Immigration to a new country brings many challenges, including finding out how to be part of a new community. For some people, the voluntary adoption of a name similar to the place where someone is living, rather than maintaining an original name, is a part of the attempt to assimilate or adapt to the new community. According to a new study focused on the United States, where Anglicized names are more typical, anglicization of ethnic names can reduce prejudice against immigrants.
The results appear in Social Psychology and Personality Science.
"We do not suggest that immigrants advertise their ethnic names to avoid discrimination," says Xian Zhao (University of Toronto), the study's lead author. "This certainly puts the burden on immigrants to promote equity, and our earlier studies also suggest that the names of Anglicization may have negative implications for someone's self-concept."
To detect bias, the researchers published a trilogy of hypothetical transport accidents: trolley, plane dilemma and lifeboat. In each variation of these moral dilemmas, participants were asked to imagine that men's lives were at risk. Men who could be saved or sacrificed could be white with a name such as "Dan" or "Alex," an immigrant with the name "Mark" or "Adam," or an immigrant with a name associated with China or the Middle East, such as "Qiu", "Jiang" or "Ahmed".
The researchers focused most of their efforts on the use of white participants, to more clearly delineate the internal and external groups in their research.
In the streetcar scenario, people tended to sacrifice one to save many, which is a common finding. However, white participants were more likely to sacrifice an immigrant with their original name than someone white or an immigrant with an Anglicised name.
His second study involved a plane crash scenario and possibly leaving someone behind with a broken leg. White men continued to show similar bias patterns, but women did not.
In the final scenario, throwing a life jacket at a man named Muhammad and risking everyone's life aboard a lifeboat brought similar results. However, for participants who scored as favorable to multicultural groups, being an immigrant named "John" improved their chances of survival. But for participants who scored favorably for assimilation of minority groups, only being white increased their chance of being saved. Zhao says he's seen that bias before in other polls.
The authors emphasize that encouraging people to change their name is not the desired outcome of this research. What is needed, says Zhao, is "the whole society must work together to improve the system to promote diversity and inclusion."
To that end, Zhao and his colleagues are working on intervention studies to train people to recognize and pronounce common ethnic names and phonemes, hoping to improve intergroup communication and reduce the need for anglicization of ethnic names.
Fear of disloyalty drives prejudice against bicultural immigrants