The dictionary definition of Xenophobia is an unreasonable fear, distrust, or hatred of strangers, foreigners, or anything perceived as foreign or different.
“Xenophobia can manifest itself in several ways in a country - victimization by police, brutal assaults, murders, ethnic cleansing in an area, mass expulsion from the country”.
Could xenophobia have a biological significance and be programmed within our genes. Neurobiologists often see this as an evolving behavior for ‘self preservation.’ For example a newborn baby has no fear of strangers whereas as it grows it starts diffentiating between strange faces and familiar faces. This fear of strangers is the early instinct of xenophobia. The reflex in the infant is seen as a natural instinct and the loud cry is seen as an alarm to attract the attention of parents and initiate a rescue. Similarly, toddlers show an intrinsic and automatic fear of snakes.
Assistant professor in social psychology at Michigan State University, Carlos David Navarrete famously researched "the psychology of prejudice" by studying the nexus between race and gender discrimination. He focused on the neurophysiological and behavioral correlates of xenophobia. Dr. Navarrete used mild shocks to induce fear in men and women (both black and white) of other black and white men and women. In essence, white men were conditioned to be fearful of black men, white men, black women, and white women. The same went for the others. Once conditioned, he studied to see which of these fears lasted and which didn't. The conclusions of this study, reported in Psychological Science, were both intriguing and unexpected.
It's commonly understood that our fears are of people different from us; what psychologists call the "out-groups". And this fear of "the other" is clearly demonstrated with race. But the results emerging from Dr. Navarrete's study surprisingly revealed that racial fear is also gender-specific. The persistent fears in the study's volunteers were reserved for men of the out-group alone. So white men and women feared black men; and black men and women feared white men. Conditioned fear for women diminished quite quickly.
Additionally, Navarrete found that people with close relationships outside their own race had less persistent fears than did those with little interracial experience.
Hence xenophobia is more complex and its dynamics need to be studied from two different perspectives. First, as a medical condition (a ‘phobia’ like all others) whose underlying causes need to be addressed. Secondly, and more importantly, as a cultural and social malaise that has moth-eaten the concept of a utopian world.
Here, both outlooks are examined and suggestions have been offered with regard to appropriate treatment options for the medical ailment while also studying possible cultural solutions to widespread xenophobic sentiments.