Cultivating empathy through conversation: new study tackles Islamophobia by developing and measuring new social interventions

A new study by Monash researchers will develop and measure interventions to reduce negative attitudes towards Muslims in the community.

Researchers at the Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre (MMIC) and BehaviourWorks at Monash University have successfully secured funding to examine effective initiatives to combat Islamophobia and strengthen community resilience to violent extremism.

Social scientists have long struggled to figure out how to reduce intergroup prejudice. With Islamophobia on the rise in Australia, there is a need for practical ways of building empathy for Muslims among the population to create socially inclusive communities. A study recently published in Science found that brief conversations between canvassers and participants had a significant impact on reducing short- and long-term transphobia. Building on methods employed by the Science study, Monash researchers seek to reduce levels of Islamophobia in the community through empathetic contact with local residents living in Melbourne.

Based on the findings, the research team hopes to identify the mechanisms associated with reducing socially harmful attitudes and contribute towards the development of scalable, cost-effective interventions to reduce ethnic intolerance across communities. This means that non-governmental organisations and activists can easily utilise this strategy to make local communities more welcoming and inclusive of diverse groups. In the face of rising intolerance, such evidence-based solutions offer a valuable opportunity to enhance community resilience to violent extremism.

The project team, led by Lecturer in Criminology Dr Kathryn Benier, includes MMIC Director Associate Professor Rebecca Wickes, Dr Isak Ladegaard, and Dr Nick Faulkner. The project will be funded through the Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety as part of its Countering Violent Extremism Research Grants.