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Integrate, a modern verb

As part of the @UniboPER/PhD Storytelling initiative, Fabio Maratia, PhD candidate in Psychology at the 'Renzo Canestrari’ Department of Psychology, talks about the development of positive attitudes towards migrants: are today's adolescents more inclusive than in the past?

The review of research stories told by young protagonists stems from the @UniboPER/PhD Storytelling initiative, which saw PhD and post-doctoral students engaging with experts in popularisation, professionals from UGIS (Unione Giornalisti Italiani Scientifici) and UniboMagazine. Author of this article is Fabio Maratia, PhD student in Psychology.

Today's young people, those belonging to the famous Gen-Z to be precise, are more inclusive than in the past, but only if the yardstick is their parents. When compared to any other segment of the adult population, things change. Their teachers, in fact, are more in favour of integration policies than both the adolescents themselves and their parents. This is the finding of a study conducted by a group of researchers from the 'Renzo Canestrari' Department of Psychology at the University of Bologna.

Teachers, through their attitudes and behaviour, raise awareness of the importance of integration issues. Despite these generational differences, the scores of all participants, irrespective of age and role, were medium to high, thus outlining a generally positive picture.

But something has changed, considering the trend of these attitudes over time. After only one year, adolescents show a significant decline in positive attitudes towards integration, precisely in conjunction with some upheavals in the Italian political order that saw a centre-right government come to power, a party that has traditionally been less inclined to give space to issues related to diversity.

To what extent does culture and, therefore, politics and the media influence this decrease? What are the long-term psychological and social effects of this decline? These are all questions that will have to be answered.

For now, one thing is certain: shedding light on the development of these attitudes and how they change over time allows us to understand what is capable of promoting greater cohesion and well-being within our societies. The study is part of a larger project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and coordinated by social psychologist Elisabetta Crocetti, called IDENTITIES, which for a year now (out of a total of three) has involved students from fifteen high schools in Emilia-Romagna, together with their parents and teachers.

The territory of Emilia-Romagna mirrors today's societies, increasingly characterised by a vast presence of cultural diversity. The way society approaches this diversity is important for the creation of more cohesive and integrated contexts. In this sense, the steady increase in migration has led some countries to develop a number of policies aimed at integrating people with a migration background.

Since 2004, a tool called the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) has aimed precisely at analysing the extent to which various integration policies are favoured and implemented in 56 large countries. The various policies analysed by MIPEX fall under eight major macro-areas. Some guarantee basic rights such as education, health promotion and family reunification. Others favour access to nationality, permanent residence, political participation and job mobility. Finally, others are geared towards combating discrimination.

All these rules allow 'newcomers' to feel more and more an active part of a social fabric. And they represent a multidimensional indicator of migrants' opportunities to participate in the social life of a country. While the presence or absence of such policies tells us something about countries' approaches to integration, it is not clear how these are perceived by individuals and what may or may not foster the development of positive attitudes towards them. Therefore, one of the many objectives of the IDENTITIES project is to understand the attitudes of adolescents towards the same policies analysed by MIPEX.

Adolescence is a crucial developmental phase for the formation of attitudes, but this development cannot be studied without considering the various contexts in which young people are immersed. From the family to the media, through the school, the project thus seeks to understand what does or does not favour openness towards integration over time. Analysing these different contexts allowed the researchers to establish which figure can play a key role in the development of inclusive orientations of adolescents.

From the results, teachers now play this role, but will this always be the case over time? Or, on the contrary, as is the case with adolescents, will a decrease in this openness to integration be observed for them as well?

The study will also answer these questions, trying to shed more light on such a complex phenomenon as integration, a complexity that also worries former President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano: "We need a new generation of leaders with vision and courage to drive forward the integration we so desperately need. This generation of leaders cannot be born by a miracle, but only through a broad mobilisation of civil and political society.”