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A photograph from March 2021 shows the Berlaymont Building in Brussels (Carl Cambpell via Unsplash)

Deep Dive: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Super Identity!

A new study examines the relationship between how much one embraces European identity and their attitude toward immigration.

Words: Emily Tamkin
Pictures: Carl Campbell

A “superordinate” identity is one that brings different subgroups together, making them all one group. But how does doing so change their attitudes toward outgroups?

That is the question at the core of a new study, “European identity’s effect on immigration attitudes: Testing the predictions of the common Ingroup identity model versus ingroup projection model,” written by K. Amber Curtis and recently published in Political Psychology. 

The common ingroup identity model (CIIM) predicts that such reorganization would “ameliorate outgroup bias” by lowering intergroup threat. On the other hand, the ingroup project model (IPM) says it will exacerbate outgroup bias, since groups will project their own characteristics onto the new superordinate group and thus more strongly dislike the former outgroup for not fitting in. 

Curtis suggests that both can be correct depending on conditions. But which describes European identity? By looking at data from an original 2015 Political Attitudes and Identities Survey carried out in Germany, Poland, and the United Kingdom, Curtis found that increased identification with Europe almost always came with a better outlook toward outgroup immigrants, even for those more predisposed to ingroup projection. 

Attitudes Toward Immigrants

The three countries were selected to “maximize variation” on experience with migration, time as EU members, and relationship to the EU. International Polling Firm Opinium LLP sent Curtis’s online survey to 2,002 standing panelists in Germany and Poland and 1,020 United Kingdom-based respondents. Respondents got “a battery of items probing sentiments towards 25 different types of immigrants.” 

The survey also asked respondents how strongly they identified with Europe, their nation, or their region on a scale of one to seven. Curtis also “generated a series of proxies for ingroup projections,” asking things like whether respondents believed being European meant a certain cultural heritage and about respondents’ ethnic and religious background. Respondents also shared their attitudes toward immigrants. 

Curtis found that increased identification with Europe almost always came with a better outlook toward outgroup immigrants.

This new evidence supports the CIIM over the IPM, Curtis writes, “by showing that a collective identity improves intergroup relations by mitigating prejudice.”

Curtis thus suggests that it would behoove the European Union to continue to help member states break down the East-West divide, emphasizing what they have in common and that they have a shared project. 

We vs. Other

Curtis suggests that future researchers widen the net, looking at the European Union more generally or looking at regions outside the European Union. The author also cautioned that the findings in this study couldn’t speak to the causal relationship, though future research might, and welcomed deeper dives into ingroup projections (for example, other studies have suggested that “national and European identity are less compatible in contexts of low trust in EU institutions, high inequality, more restrictive immigration policies, and a communist past”). 

Curtis further suggests further study into the “specific mechanism” that links European identification to pro-immigrant attitudes. For now, though, Curtis’s study suggests that a new “we” makes the “other” seem less othered, something for politicians and policymakers alike to keep in mind.

Emily Tamkin

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