Emily Reynolds, BPS Research Digest.
Tolerance is often touted as a progressive value, a way of ensuring that society offers equal opportunities to all. But it can also imply “putting up with” something or someone you fundamentally disagree with or dislike — being tolerated isn’t the same as being genuinely valued or respected, for example. As one writer puts it, tolerance has echoes “of at best grudging acceptance, and at worst ill-disguised hostility”.
Now a new study in the British Journal of Psychology has found that the experience of being tolerated takes its toll on the wellbeing of ethnic minorities in the United States. Sara Cvetkovska from Utrecht University and colleagues find that the experience of being tolerated is closer to discrimination than it is to acceptance — impacting overall wellbeing and increasing negative mood.
In the first study, the team looked at how wellbeing related to the experience of being tolerated, compared to being accepted or discriminated against outright. Participants were non-white, belonged to a racial or ethnic minority group, and ranged from 17 to 73 years old.
First, participants answered questions about how frequently they felt they were being tolerated, accepted or discriminated against in several social contexts — at work, school, during leisure activities, at clubs or organisations, in their neighbourhood, on social media and overall. Tolerance was described as people objecting to particular cultural beliefs or practices but “putting up” with them nonetheless; discrimination referred to unjust treatment; while acceptance was described as a genuine appreciation for certain practices or ways of life.
Participants then rated themselves on five facets of wellbeing: positive and negative affect, self-esteem, life satisfaction and a sense of control. And while perceived acceptance, unsurprisingly, was associated with greater positive wellbeing, tolerance was associated with lower levels, with discrimination associated with the lowest levels of all.