How we can switch on multiculturalism

A paper co-authored by a Fellow of the British Psychological Society has been selected for publication by Science, one of the world's leading journals.

‘Adapting to a Multicultural Future’, written by Professor Richard Crisp FBPsS and Rose Meleady, proposes that our human ancestors evolved a specialised cognitive system that enabled them to adapt to complex and diverse tribal environments.

They argue that this system is triggered only under certain conditions but that this has not yet been taken into account in modern multicultural policy.

Professor Crisp, a renowned authority on the psychology of social and cultural diversity, says:

“Governments and policymakers have generally not incorporated this psychological perspective into their thinking, which may help explain why previous attempts to foster multiculturalism have failed. In our paper we outline what we believe is needed to make these policies succeed.

“In particular, we suggest that policy designed to ‘switch on’ specialised cognitive systems for adapting to diversity will help promote positive relations between communities and groups, as well as encourage a new appreciation of the value of multiculturalism for modern society."

"Encouragingly, several techniques already exist that may tap in to the evolved neuro-computational architecture we propose. These include forms of mental simulation (‘imagined contact’) or exposure to counter-stereotypic role-models. Such techniques have been shown to shift people out of simplistic ‘us’ vs ‘them’ ways of thinking, and may stimulate precisely the sort of 'coalition-building' behaviours that we believe are key to promoting more positive intergroup relations."

Science was first published in 1880 and today has an estimated readership of one million. It covers the full range of scientific disciplines and has an impact factor of 31.36 (measured by the Institute for Scientific Information). Competition to publish in Science is intense, with fewer than 10 per cent of articles submitted accepted for publication.