Unravelling Physiology in Intergroup Discussions: Exploring Stress Responses among Dutch and International Students
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The ever-increasing presence of multicultural societies requires us to understand the processes that occur when different groups interact. It is especially important to address the changes within the higher education setting, as the population of international students is increasing rapidly. With this empirical study of intergroup communication between Dutch and international students, we aimed to investigate how factors such as group status and perceived intergroup threat relate to psychological and physiological stress responses. The study was designed in the form of framed intergroup discussion between two participants belonging to different status groups (Dutch students as the high-status group versus international students as the low-status group), with the topic proposing benefit of the low-status group at the expense of high-status group. Self-report anxiety and heart rate measures were taken as indicators of stress. Additionally perceived intergroup threat was assessed. We found no significant differences between the status groups on either of the stress response measures, although the heart rate increased significantly on the overall sample during the discussion compared to baseline. However, we were not able to conclude whether this was indeed an indication of stress. Our key finding was that low-status group members scored significantly higher on perceived intergroup threat, despite the discussion putting them in a better position. This suggests that intergroup threat might be more influenced by the general experiences, which raises concerns regarding psychological safety of international students and calls for further investigation into the reasons behind our findings.
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