Many people mask their true feelings towards minorities here

Report suggests higher-educated people better at hiding intolerance

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Shane Phelan

Many Irish people conceal their real attitudes towards minorities, according to a groundbreaking study.

The research, published today, reveals gaps between what people say in public and their true feelings.

Among the findings were that while over two-thirds of people openly supported more black people coming to Ireland, this dropped to just over half when respondents could conceal their attitude.

The study, conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), is the first of its kind in Ireland.

It indicates many Irish people feel social pressure to show tolerance for certain minorities, but this can vary depending on the minority involved.

While previous surveys have shown people with higher educational attainment are more positive towards minorities in Ireland and elsewhere, the ESRI report concluded this was largely because highly educated people who hold negative attitudes are more likely to conceal them.

"These findings suggest that it is not so much that those with lower education are less tolerant of diversity, but rather those with higher education are better at masking their intolerance," the report said.

The findings of the 'Hidden Versus Revealed Attitudes' report have implications for Government efforts to foster interculturalism.

The report recommended population-wide efforts to bring about attitudinal change, rather than targeting particular segments of the population.

More than 1,600 people were surveyed as part of the research, which used a technique known as a "list experiment". This approach compares anonymously expressed attitudes to those expressed more openly, to seek to understand the extent to which people are concealing controversial opinions when polled.

For the study, people were asked about their views on black or Muslim people coming to Ireland as an example to illustrate discrepancies between open and concealed attitudes to minority groups.

The findings showed that the extent to which people conceal their negative views on immigration depends on the minority group being asked about, as well as the gender, age and educational background of the respondents.

It concluded that social pressures to exhibit tolerance were much greater when people were asked about black people than when asked about Muslim people.

While 66pc of people openly supported more black people coming to Ireland, this dropped to 51pc when respondents could conceal their attitude.

Fewer people openly supported more Muslim immigration, with no evidence that people conceal their attitudes.

The study found that among people with third-level education, 27pc do not support more black people coming to Ireland but conceal it, and just 22pc conceal negativity towards Muslims.

Concealing negative views was almost twice as prevalent among people aged 18 to 49 than it was among people aged 50 or over with respect to the question on black immigration. However, the younger group are more supportive than the older group even when asked anonymously.