One world, one people: Study finds we’re all much more alike than different

Racism and discrimination are on everyone’s mind these days. It’s clear that 2020 has become a cultural tipping point or changing of the guard when it comes to racism in American society. Today’s generation simply won’t stand for bigotry and systemic racism anymore.

In light of the current climate, a new study from the University of California, Riverside feels particularly timely. Researchers have produced scientific evidence that wherever you may go in the world, regardless of other people’s skin color, religious beliefs, or genetic background, people are very similar to each other.

It’s a finding that effectively nullifies every racist belief or doctrine ever conceived. Point blank, people are people. It doesn’t matter if your ancestors were African, Asian, or European, we all have much more in common than that which divides us.

The study’s authors analyzed local citizens’ responses and reactions to various situations across 62 different countries all over the planet. They found that most of the time people respond to situations very similarly regardless of their nationality or ethnicity.

“Even though individuals within the same country have more similar experiences than those in different countries, the differences are barely noticeable,” says lead author Daniel Lee in a university release. “The world is a much more similar and unified place than we once thought.”

“This project is unprecedented. Very few international studies look at relationships between more than two countries, let alone 62,” Lee adds.

A “situation” as defined by the study’s authors means pretty much any occurrence or event in everyday life; an evening spent on the couch watching TV, noticing it’s too hot in a particular room, or attending a party and seeing one’s crush there.

So, to see if people all over the world generally experience life in the same way, the research team examined data on 15,318 people from universities and college campuses all over the world. Among that group, 10,771 were female and 4,468 were male (79 did not indicate gender). Most of those individuals were in their early 20s, and each person filled out a 90-question assessment.

This work is a much larger version of an earlier UCR research project from 2015 called “The World at 7:00.” That study had asked a group of people from 20 different countries to describe their experiences and activities at 7 P.M. the previous evening. In a nutshell, that study had concluded that people from different countries were far more similar than expected and people from the same country varied in their experiences and reactions more than anticipated. 

Now, both the 2015 and the new study concluded that most experiences are “mildly positive.” This means that while people from the same country are more likely to deal with the same situation than people from different nations, all people exhibit very few differences in how they experience and react to said situations between countries.

So, while someone from Canada may be more likely to see someone drop their wallet accidentally while walking on a city street, a Nigerian or Slovakian is just as likely to run over and return the wallet as a Canadian.

There were, however, some interesting differences in conclusions among the 2015 and 2020 studies. The 2015 study found that the US and Canada were most similar in terms of experiences, but this time around Australia was identified as the United States’ most similar counterpart. Conversely, while the 2015 study concluded South Korea and Denmark were the most different in terms of citizen experiences, the new project placed that distinction on Malaysia and Jordan.

In 2015, Canada was listed as the country most like the rest of the world. According to this latest research, four countries are now tied for that title (US, Chile, Canada, Australia). As far as countries that are the most different from the rest of the world, Japan and South Korea were listed as such in 2015. The 2020 study identified solely Japan as the most different.

Over the past five years or so the world has felt more divided than ever. Despite supposed lessons learned from the 20th century, racism, xenophobia, and tribal nationalism continue to persist. Add in a global pandemic that has been politicized and weaponized, and it’s easy to feel discouraged about the path humanity is on. These findings are a much-needed reminder that at the end of the day we’re all on the same team.

“We can only hope that seeing we’re all unified in the challenges we face during these trying times will give people an increased sense of global community,” Lee concludes.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Personality.