In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
And Twain is right, according to science.
A series of five experiments at Northwestern University and Columbia University found that the more countries a person visits, the more trusting they become of people generally. The researchers found that the time spent in each country doesn’t matter. Only the number of places and also how different those countries are to the participants’ home countries — the more exotic the country visited, the more trusting the visitor becomes.
I think something simple is happening here. In general, people naturally assume foreigners are more different and less trustworthy than the people in our own communities and nations. But when we travel abroad, we learn the truth — that people are in fact more similar and more trustworthy than we used to assume. Given enough travel, if I discover that people in this country and that country and yet another country are essentially just like me, I’ll trust not only the people in those countries, but also humanity in general.
And that sense of trust and empathy will apply to different groups back home. With enough travel, it becomes nearly impossible to hold racial, ethnic, socioeconomic or other biases against any groups or individuals. The power of divisive constructs fizzles, and the importance of group affiliation, national borders and other artificial labels fade. In other words: “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”
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