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Research Findings: What Makes People Intolerant

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What the research says about the causes of individual intolerance

What makes people tolerant and intolerant at an individual level?

SACS in partnership with Deakin University undertook a research study measuring a variety of psychological characteristics such as personality, values and cognitive ability. A survey was conducted where job candidates were asked a series of questions regarding their attitudes towards gender, ethnicity, ageing and disability.

A second study that SACS has undertaken regarding diversity in the workforce was a survey conducted on behalf of the Scanlon Foundation. Responses were collected from over 2,500 people across Australia. In this study we looked at ‘diversity climate’, the degree to which employees of an organisation believe that their workplace is committed to diversity.

Read on to learn about the fascinating findings from both of these studies.

What the research says about the causes of individual intolerance

Watch the video to understand what the research findings showed about the effects of intelligence, personality, values, salary, age and education on individual intolerance and attitudes towards diversity.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 3 – Research Findings: Prejudice within the workforce

And watch the previous video here:

Part 1 – Theory: What makes people prejudiced?

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Hi, Andrew from SACS and welcome to video number two in our six-video sequence on creating an inclusive workforce.

In the first of these videos, we created a theory. We showed you a theory about what makes people prejudiced, largely generated by my colleague, Jeremy Anglin, from Deakin University.

Now, we’re going to show you some findings from some research that we undertook, both in partnership with Deakin University and also with a not-for-profit organisation called the Scanlon Foundation.

The Scanlon Foundation is an organisation which is devoted to inclusion. That’s its mission in life. To try to make a more inclusive society here in Australia.

We’re going to show you some research findings in this video about what makes people tolerant and intolerant at an individual level.

Then we’re going to show you, in subsequent videos, research findings about tolerance and intolerance in organisations and key drivers of tolerance and intolerance.

So, three videos about research findings.

Subsequent videos, videos, five and six in this series, are all about what do you do about it if you’ve got intolerance in your workplace, apart from, of course, your recruitment practises.

SACS / Deakin study – Real world data

So, to tell you a little bit about the SACS/Deakin Study, this was undertaken about four years ago, 731 people measured.

In fact what we did is, we measured a bunch of characteristics, psychological characteristics, on them, personality, values and cognitive ability, how smart they are.

But the important thing about this data is that this data is real world data.

In other words, people were applying for jobs when they filled in these psych tests.

Now, from a recruitment point of view that’s very important because lots of research in this area takes place where people are just filling in a questionnaire to help a research company out.

Well, clearly if I’m applying for a job I answer those questions a little differently and certainly with more focus than I do if I’m just, say, helping SACS out on a research project.

So, this is what we call high-stakes data.

Now, subsequently in most cases, about 18 months later, we then went and asked them a bunch of questions about their attitudes towards diversity.

In other words, what was their attitude to gender, ethnicity, to things like ageing and to things like disability. And so, we got some really valuable data.

Now, of course, when you do a study like this, it gives you a chance of marrying up the data that we got subsequently with the original psych test data.

And it allows you to measure whether you can predict some of the outcomes from a tolerance and intolerance point of view based on the psych test data that you got 18 months earlier.

Attitudes towards diversity measure

So, just to describe what we mean by attitudes towards diversity.

We have an attitude towards diversity measure which has been validated in a range of different ways.

The first thing it measures, is ethnicity.

Now, it might surprise you to know that the questions here are pretty blunt, things like, “I wouldn’t want a report to an ethnic supervisor,” or “When problems arise, it’s ethnic employees “who cause these problems.”

Surprises people when they get high scores on this because what we did is we asked a bunch of questions.

We put them through a mathematical assessment process to find out which questions worked.

We found that sort of four to six questions in each area. And in this case, we’re talking about ethnicity.

We asked these questions of thousands of people here in Australia and New Zealand.

That allows you to create, what’s called, a norm group, which means that the average person in Australia and New Zealand tends to be tolerant, or intolerant to this degree.

Of course, if you measure people who are low in that respect, well, that’s good.

If on the other hand you measure them and they’re high in that respect, that means that they are more intolerant than most people here in Australia and New Zealand.

Evolutionary history

It’s often said that Australia is a racist country.

And of course it is and every country in the world is racist and intolerant in other respects as well.

Now, it varies from country to country. No question about it.

But there is good reasons for this if you think back to the evolutionary past that we came from.

There is good evidence, for instance, that in general in hunter-gatherer societies, certainly some hunter-gatherer societies, maybe only 60 or 70% of people made it past say 50 years of age through not being killed by somebody else who was warring with them for a water hole, or for access to certain food, or something like that.

So, that has, over the generations, over thousands of years, of course, it caused us to be very careful about and intolerant of people who are different from us.

Now, I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I’m just explaining why it’s the case.

The good news is that it’s being bred out of society because racism and intolerance is in fact not a favourable characteristic.

So, society is becoming less so, but also the education that we provide people, helps in that respect.

Attitudes towards gender, age and disability

Second thing it measures, is gender, attitudes towards women.

These are questions like, “I wouldn’t want to work “for a female supervisor,” or, “Women cause problems at work.” So, very blunt questions, again, on gender.

Then there’s age. These are things to do mainly with comfort. “I don’t like working with elderly employees,” or, “I am comfortable to work with elderly employees.” And finally, disability.

Those are also questions to do with comfort, the degree to which people are comfortable to work with disability.

This is a graphic (refer to video) of the SACS measure of attitudes towards diversity.

We have many hundreds of organisations that buy psych tests from us.

The way that it works is that people have an account and when they fill up their account with credits, they can then use those credits to buy psych tests.

One of the things that we recommend for many organisations is a measure called, Attitudes Towards Diversity and it measures those for attitudes towards diversity. It measures gender, ethnicity, age, and disability.

So, you’ll see this person, the gender risk is low, the ethnicity risk is low, the age risk is low and the disability risk is low.

So, those are positive results.

HEXACO model of personality

In the research study, we measured people’s attitudes towards diversity, but 18 months prior, we had assessed people for a couple of characteristics. One was their cognitive ability, another was their personality and another was their values.

This is the HEXACO Model of Personality as discovered by Kibeom Lee and Mike Ashton.

The HEXACO Model of Personality is known to be a very accurate measure of personality.

It’s certainly the coming model of personality in research and in the publications that we’ve had with Deakin Uni, it’s typically the model of personality that we’ve used in those studies.

Six factors. Honesty-humility, which is about being honest and truthful and straightforward. E, for emotional stability, in terms of being emotionally stable, or emotionally unstable. X, for extroversion which is all about being a people person or somebody who is more withdrawn. Agreeableness, which is about being angry, or not angry.

Conscientiousness, which is about being straightforward and organised and hardworking.

And openness to experience which is about being broad-minded about new things.

We looked at the question of whether personality can predict whether a person is likely to be tolerant, or intolerant.

Schwartz’s values framework

We use the Schwartz’s Values Framework.

Shalom Schwartz is one of the most important researchers in the world on the topic of values and has measured literally millions of people around the world on values, both at a cultural level and at an individual level. And we are using the individual level tool here.

Values here (refer to video), you’ll notice that there are some values which are about conservation, which are things like being traditional and conforming to rules, or being security-conscious.

Self-enhancement is about power, which is about being able to get a dominant position in social groups and organisations.

Achievement is about being ambitious and moving ahead.

Openness to change is about stimulation and self-direction.

Hedonism is sort of somewhere between self-enhancement and openness to change.

And finally, self-transcendence which is all about helping people, being benevolent to people.

And universalism is really where I’m committed to making the world a better place.

The Scanlon Foundation

The second study that we’re engaged in was a study with an organisation called the Scanlon Foundation.

It’s a not-for-profit organisation that sponsors inclusiveness here in Australia.

So, that study was a very big study. About 2,429 people, about half male and half female.

We measured attitudes towards diversity again.

We also measured some demographic comparisons.

So, to address questions like, “Are younger people more inclusive than older people?” We also measured some diversity competencies.

In the world of research, there are diversity competencies like motivation. Motivation means, well, actually I believe it’s important and I try to be more inclusive.

Then there’s behaviour which is all about the way I behave with people who come from different backgrounds.

Do I manage that appropriately? Then there’s knowledge, which is all about the degree to which I believe that I’ve got the knowledge.

So for instance, if you’re dealing with a different ethnicity and somebody mentions something, do I know what that means? Do I know how I should respond to that? Do I know what I should say about it?

Those are all things to do with knowledge.

We also measured a thing called diversity climate.

Now, diversity climate is the degree to which employees of an organisation believe that the organisation is committed to diversity.

So, if you have a positive diversity climate, what it means is that your employees feel that you care about diversity and you want them to care about diversity.

We also measured a bunch of other predictors of tolerance, and we reported on those.

An intolerant type of person

So, let’s talk about the findings.

Finding number one is a really interesting one. This is something that has been found around the world, which is that intolerant people tend to be, well intolerant.

So, here we’ve got negative attitudes towards gender, ethnicity and disability and ethnicity, disability and the elderly (refer to video).

What we find is, you notice these are correlations.

So, correlations, these numbers here can be 0, which means there’s no relationship whatsoever, or they can be theoretically as high as 1, or -1.

Now, we won’t talk about negative correlations ’cause that confuses things.

Just look at it this way. The higher the number, the stronger the relationship between the two things.

So, what we see here is that people who have negative attitudes to gender, in other words, sexist, there’s a 0.7 correlation with racism.

So, sexists are very often racist as well.

Sexists often don’t have positive attitudes towards people with disability, or the elderly.

People who are racist don’t have positive attitudes towards disability, or the elderly.

And people who have negative attitudes towards disability also are very likely to have negative attitudes towards the elderly.

That’s an interesting finding, isn’t it? There’s a sort of a intolerant type if you want to put it that way.

If I’m intolerant to one thing, it’s much more likely I’m going to be intolerant to other things.

Now of course, at an individual level there will be people who are racist, but very inclusive in respect of those other things and vice versa.

But in general, if you take thousands of people, you’ll find that many people who are intolerant in one respect, will be intolerant in another respect.

Women are more tolerant

Now, we’re going to show you some interesting findings about gender.

It is a vote of positivity for women because women are more tolerant than men in almost every case.

So, ethnicity, less racist. Gender, less sexist. Disability, more welcoming of people with disability and more welcoming of the elderly.

In psychology, there is this perspective people versus things perspective.

Men tend to be more interested in things, in other words, they’re committed to cars, or sport, or whatever.

I mean, there’s a kind of a focus on things, whereas women tend to be more people-orientated.

So, some people don’t like it to be said like this, but you could say it’s a more nurturing perspective.

By the way, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

I think it’s good when people are nurturing.

I’ve often said that I wish more women were in power across the world. We’d have less wars.

Women will undertake war less often because they actually care about human beings more.

But certainly you see in this data, that people versus things perspective is supported.

Youth are more tolerant

Finding number three, younger people are far more tolerant, particularly as it comes to ethnic diversity.

So, this is intolerance and you’ll see that intolerance marches upwards as people age.

So, 65 to 70+ is the least tolerant group from an ethnicity point of view of any.

Now, of course, some of those may well have experienced either wars, personally, or certainly their parents would’ve experienced wars and maybe it got passed on that people who were the protagonists in those wars were bad people.

So, it’s probably not that surprising.

But it also shows you, as people get more exposed to ethnic diversity,

so, young people in Australia and New Zealand, as I mentioned, Australia is one of the most multicultural places on earth, tend to be more tolerant.

That’s largely because two things.

One is they’re educated that tolerance is a good thing but secondly, they’ve actually experienced it.

It’s very hard to be racist against a particular ethnicity if that person from that ethnicity is a really good friend of mine.

Tolerance slightly increases with salary

Finding number four is that more highly paid people are slightly more tolerant.

So, you see the way that this works see (refer to video), we’re marching up the ranks of salary as we go from left to right here.

You’ll see that the lowest is this 1.8 and that’s people who are highly paid.

So, for whatever reason it may well be that it correlates with IQ.

And we know that, well, we don’t know this, so I’m going to show you, that IQ correlates with intolerance.

So, higher IQ might be an explainer there, but as well as that, I guess as people march up the ranks of seniority, maybe they’ve had to work with an extremely wide range of people from different backgrounds and maybe that contributes to tolerance as well.

Education increases tolerance

Finding number five, more educated people are more tolerant.

Now, once more, you’ll see (refer to video) that the lowly educated people there are more intolerant than the people who are highly educated. So, this group here with bachelor’s degrees and doctorates are people who are more tolerant and less racist than people who are not very educated. Once more, it may well be that IQ has got something to do with it.

at because the average IQ of a person with a PhD is higher than a person with no education whatsoever.

But as well as that, maybe it’s the exposure to life.

And maybe the institutions which teach people how to get their degrees, maybe they’re also telling people, well it’s a good thing to be inclusive because we do know that that kind of education does work.

By the way, videos number five and six in this sequence will tell you a little bit more about what techniques cause people to be more tolerant.

Personality and values drive intolerance

This is an interesting one. This sort of looks a little confusing as we work our way through this, but I’ll take you through the key findings here (refer to video) .

What we have here, is we have a bunch of correlations.

So, these correlations are correlations with tolerance.

What you’ll see here is that if we focus on cognitive ability, people with low verbal reasoning tend to be less tolerant than people with high verbal reasoning.

A correlation of 0.27, by the way, with IQ, is not a tiny little correlation.

And also abstract reasoning, abstract ability as it’s called here, and numerical ability is only just under the 15 threshold, which has led to these correlations being highlighted.

Let me explain that.

What that’s saying, is that people with low cognitive ability also subsequently reported more racist views.

Which is to say, that supports this cognitive complexity pathway that people who are not very smart, tend not to welcome the complexity of welcoming the idea that people with different backgrounds, or people who come from very diverse backgrounds might well be worthwhile people.

So, there is a relationship between cognitive ability and racism.

Then we have this category here, these three things that we see highlighted here, they’re all to do with the honesty-humility characteristics.

What that’s saying is that people who are modest, people who are not greedy and people who are honest and truthful and straightforward, which is what sincerity means, they are much more likely to be inclusive and much less likely to be racist.

To turn it around, if people are arrogant and dishonest and greedy, they are also much more likely to be racist.

Ring a bell? Now, in addition to that, we see this characteristic of social self-esteem.

Social self-esteem is a personality characteristic where a person with high social self-esteem is somebody who thinks, well, people like me, I’m okay. I can hold my head up in company.

If a person is low in that, what it means is that they are much more likely to be racist.

Really interesting finding, isn’t it? Self-doubters tend to be more racist.

I guess what’s going on there is that they’re kind of almost comforting themselves.

Well, I might not be great, but these people are even worse.

And then if we look down here, we’ve got aesthetic appreciation which is part of open-mindedness.

And what we see here is that people who are kind of open to new ideas and especially perhaps art lovers, will tend to be people who are much more likely to be tolerant than people who are not into art and aesthetics.

Also, perhaps not surprisingly, altruistic people.

Altruism being this characteristic of I want to be kind to people, I want to be helpful to people.

Altruistic people also tend to be much less likely to be racist than people who are not like that.

Then we move on to values. What values tend to drive a person’s tolerance, or intolerance?

We see that there are some key ones here.

Power, when people are power seekers, which means literally I want to dominate either people, or resources, they are much more likely to be racist than people who don’t take that view.

Domineering people are of their nature more likely to be racist.

Then we have the question of security.

I guess what that’s saying is that people who are very security-conscious may be threatened by people who are different from them and so, that causes them to be less tolerant.

And then we have the question of tradition.

In the Schwartz model, tradition means I base my perspectives on religion, or society, or family. I do what I have historically known my forebears to do.

People like that can be more racist. I don’t suppose that’s shocking because if you think of it, some of the traditions are very old-fashioned and have been passed down from a time where it was kind of more socially acceptable to be intolerant of other people.

But in any event, it’s certainly a driver in this study of intolerance.

Then we go to universalism. Universalism means I want to make the world a better place.

People who are universalistic are people who have a commitment to either social justice, or environmental sustainability.

People like that are much less likely to be intolerant.

Four pathways model

So, that leads us back to our four pathways model.

We can put a tick against the social dominance pathway because we found that people with low honesty-humility were people who tended to be more racist.

And people who were self-transcendent tend to be less racist than people who wanted to get ahead in life and were kind of ambitious and driving. Ego-threat.

Yes, we found that people with low social self-esteem tend to be more racist.

Conservatism. People who had low openness and people who had values related to conservatism, tended to be more racist.

And finally, people who weren’t that smart tended to be more racist. And if you want to go to the original article that we published on this topic in 2019, you can access that through Google Scholar, or Research Gate or something like that.

So, in the next video, we’re going continue some of our research findings.

We’re going to show you some research findings about tolerance and intolerance of people within the context of an organisation. And we are going to be looking at a thing called diversity climate.

We’re also going to show you some really interesting data about what industry sectors tend to be more inclusive, or less inclusive.

So, join us for that video to find out more about these research findings.

This will help you to understand how to recruit people who are much more likely to be welcoming and inclusive for your organisation.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about creating a diversity friendly workforce:

Part 3 – Research Findings: Prejudice within the workforce

And watch the previous video here:

Part 1 – Theory: What makes people prejudiced?

And if you’d like some help to ensure your next hire is tolerant, contact us about our Psychometric Assessments.

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