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The role of emotions in developing a sense of identification, solidarity and engagement with the cause of refugees in the UK

School of Applied Sciences

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Dr M Gheorghiu , Mr J Blake No more applications being accepted Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Recent events in the United Kingdom and Europe have brought to the fore of public attention the issue of migration. Starting with the 2015 refugee “crisis” and the EU referendum vote in the UK, the rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers have been even more contested. Pervading these debates is a general negative sentiment towards these groups recently culminating in the Windrush scandal that highlighted a deliberate effort at the core of government to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants in the UK. In this political context, the proposed PhD project sets out to examine ways in which we can counter these attitudes amongst members of the public through different forms of media exposure that would create a sense of shared identification, solidarity and engagement in collective action to support these groups’ rights.
A very popular approach to changing individual attitudes is the contact hypothesis which proposes that developing cross-group friendships and acquaintances lowers levels of prejudice as a result of increasing empathy and trust and decreasing anxiety. Generally, the positive effect of contact has received strong empirical support (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006), even when people imagine that they interact (as opposed to face-to-face interaction) with a member of the other group. However, applying this paradigm to prejudice towards refugees is problematic for the simple fact that not many ordinary people will have refugee friends or have come into personal contact with refugees. In this PhD project, we propose to use Virtual Reality to understand how we can change negative, prejudicial attitudes by creating a sense of identification and solidarity with these groups. The advantage of Virtual Reality is that it offers participants the possibility of “putting themselves in the shoes” of a refugee, which comes as close as possible to experiencing what it means to live like/be a refugee. As Virtual Reality paradigm is a novel approach to examining attitudes towards refugees, we will start by first exploring the range of emotions that participants experience when immersed in the Virtual Reality of ‘what is like to live as/to be a refugee’. Secondly, we will focus on the role of specific positive and negative emotions (e.g., empathy, disgust, contempt, anger, guilt, shame) in mediating the development of a sense of solidarity and identification with refugees and engagement in collective action to support their rights.
The applicant will need to have a first degree (at least 2.1) ideally in psychology with a good, fundamental knowledge of the social psychology of groups and research methods. It is essential that the applicant has some experience of using fundamental research methods, is competent in the social psychology of groups, has knowledge of statistics and standard statistical software (e.g., SPSS, R), good written and oral communicant skills, strong motivation with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project, and good time management skills.
IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each four components). Other equivalent qualifications with be accepted.
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