Feelings of Happiness Make Teens More Tolerant Toward Asylum Seekers

How British teenagers feel about young people seeking asylum depends in part on how happy they currently feel, according to a new study from researchers at University of Surrey, University of Birmingham and Oxford University.

In the study, researchers divided 219 adolescents between the ages of 16 and 21 into three groups. One group participated in a task designed to induce feelings of happiness and another group in a task designed to induce feelings of fear. The third group didn’t participate in a task intended induce any particular emotional state.

Then the researchers asked all the participants about their feelings toward young Muslim asylum seekers. The researchers also had the teens fill out surveys measuring prejudicial attitudes.

Compared to the other groups, the teenagers who had been prompted to feel happier tended to have more positive feelings toward the asylum seekers and to be more tolerant toward them. There was no difference between the group who had been prompted to feel fear and the group who hadn’t been prompted to feel anything in particular.

What’s especially striking about the results is that these were transient feelings of happiness induced as part of the experiment. It may be, then, that even fleeting changes in emotions and in positive thinking can affect the way teenagers react to people seeking asylum. It remains unclear whether the same would hold true for people further into adulthood.

A takeaway from this study, according to the authors, is the possibility that “one way to increase positive attitudes toward asylum-seeking young people is to improve general emotional state.” Of course, there are already plenty of reasons to want to build a more emotionally positive society. But another one, it turns out, may be that a happier society is a society that’s more tolerant.

Image: Flickr/Damian Bariexca