Social diversity is initially threatening but people do adapt over time – new research
As hypothesised, we found that in the short term, individuals react negatively to changes in religious diversity, experiencing a dip in their quality of life. But over time, individuals adapted to changes in society and began to reap the benefits of diversity, with quality of life returning to initial levels.
Why is this the case? To answer this, we examined the psychological mechanisms involved in these processes. We found that the initial negative effects were being driven by a reduction in trust of others around them in countries, with increased religious diversity. But after a period of four to eight years, individuals started to report mixing with people from different backgrounds, which improves their trust in others, promoting a positive impact on their quality of life. Importantly, the initial negative effect, whereby diversity was associated with reduced trust, was fully cancelled out by the positive effect of mixing with members of different groups.
Our findings show that, despite initial resistance, humans can cope with the documented challenges of diversity. They also show that, by focusing only on the short term, we may draw an inaccurate, pessimistic conclusion about the impact of diversity. An increase in diversity offers the opportunity for members of different groups to engage in contact, get to know each other, and cooperate. And when this occurs, this positive effect of diversity trumps the initial challenges.