Trump, Hanson lowering bar ‘of new social norms’, say researchers

One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson during Question Time in the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra this week. Photo: AAP

Prominent political figures such as Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson are setting new social ‘norms’ that allow prejudice to thrive, according to researchers at the Australian National University.

The researchers are asking people to record any experiences they have of prejudice in their everyday lives as part of a major study into helping understand and reduce prejudice.

Lead researcher Professor Michael Platow said politicians such as Senator Hanson and president-elect Trump have reset the norms of what is appropriate.

“By our leaders expressing these views, they are setting the norms and showing that it’s OK to say these things,” he said.

He said part of the problems lies in changing the way groups of people view facts.

In the wake of the US election many have argued that facts are no longer as influential in public debate, while “post-truth” was chosen by the Oxford Dictionary as 2016’s international word of the year.

But Professor Platow said it was not accurate to say that facts no longer matter.

“This isn’t true,” he said. “What you have in the racism debate, as in the climate change debate, is that both sides have their own facts. The point is that facts themselves are social constructions,” he said.

“We’re in an era where the common frame of reference for judging what is a fact and what is not, is disintegrating.

“We need to reconstruct a shared perspective of what are facts. We need a shared set of values and norms to allow us to move forward.”

Professor Platow said this disconnect in people’s understanding of reality is what leads to people like Senator Hanson claiming she was not a racist.

The research study, called the Prejudice Census, asks people to act as “citizen scientists”, recording any experiences with prejudice that they may encounter in their daily lives.

“The Prejudice Census will allow us build a better understanding of exactly what people think prejudice is in the first place,” Professor Platow said.

“What we need is an analysis of what people believe to be prejudice and how and why these beliefs are changed and maintained.”

The Prejudice Census is based in the Research School of Psychology at tahe Australian National University, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Adelaide, Groningen University in the Netherlands, and Tel Aviv University in Israel.

People can take art in the Prejudice Census here – http://psychology.anu.edu.au/node/791/edit/prejudice-census

Wendy Caccetta

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