The Generosity of Neighbors
Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, due to the influx of refugees Jordan’s schools have been operating with two teaching shifts. In these double-shift schools (see picture), Jordanian children are taught in the mornings while young Syrian refugees typically attend school in the afternoon. Wanting to learn more about the social dynamics at work under such exceptional circumstances, a research team conducted an experiment aimed at measuring out-group discrimination and generosity. Children aged 9 and 10 from both shifts were asked to distribute toys between themselves and their Jordanian or Syrian peers.
Overall, the authors found remarkable generosity and very little discrimination among both Jordanian and Syrian refugee children on average. This is particularly interesting when compared to similar studies conducted with European children, which often show high out-group discrimination.
Even though the average level of discrimination observed in Jordanian schools was low, substantial variation in the level of discrimination and generosity were observed across individuals. Surveying family histories and parental attitudes, the authors identified three factors that were associated with these differing levels of discrimination. First, Jordanian children who had descended from Palestinian refugees shared more with their Syrian counterparts than Jordanians lacking such a refugee background. Second, Syrian children with more Jordanian friends tended to discriminate less. Finally, prevailing narratives seemed to be related to the observed heterogeneity in discrimination levels observed. Syrian children with parents that interpreted their forced migration as a “tragedy” and believe that Jordanians “should do everything they can to help” were less inclined to share with their peers than those who thought that Jordan had already done enough.
The study sheds light on how kindness between strangers, a potential driving mechanism behind social integration, depends on family histories and narratives derived at a very early age.