The Contact Hypothesis Offers Hope for the World

If you’re the sort of person who thinks about human nature, about who we are as a species, it’s easy to experience some whiplash these days. Here’s a story about Germans welcoming migrants at a train station in Munich. There’s a story about Swedes burning down housing for migrants. Here are Americans electing Donald Trump, who proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the country, as president. But there are Americans turning out by the thousands to protest at airports after he signed an executive order they viewed as anti-Muslim.

There’s no right “answer” to the question of whether human beings are fundamentally good or bad, of course. Humans are a lot of things, and social psychology has known for a while that our behavior is profoundly affected by context and culture. It’s safe to say the average human is capable on the one hand of profound goodness and on the other of profound evil — or at the very least of looking away when profound evil occurs.

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