The people around us influence how we see the world, so perhaps it’s not so surprising that who our neighbors are plays a role in determining how we interact with society. New research published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that living in a more ethnically diverse environment makes people more disposed toward helping others.

In a paper titled People in More Racially Diverse Neighborhoods Are More Prosocial, the researchers describe a series of studies that all converge on the same conclusion: when people live in diverse communities, they become more likely to engage in behaviors that are positive for society and for the people around them.

For example, one of the studies found that people living in more racially diverse neighborhoods were more likely to offer help to those affected by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Another study found that people in more diverse cities tended to Tweet about prosocial ideas more often.

When the researchers took things from the city level to the country level, they found a similar pattern. In particular, it turned out that people in more ethnically diverse countries more often reported

having helped someone they didn’t know in the previous month.

So what makes people living in diverse environments apparently more ready to engage in prosocial behaviors? Part of the effect seems to be explained by the fact that people who live in more racially diverse neighborhoods are more likely to identify with all of humanity.

At this point, you might be wondering about the causality here. Does living in a more diverse neighborhood make people more altruistic, or are more altruistic people simply more likely to live in more diverse neighborhoods?

The researchers found at least some evidence that being in a more diverse neighborhood could really change people’s attitudes. Specifically, when people were asked to imagine that they were living in a more diverse neighborhood, they once again tended to identify more with all of humanity, and they became more willing to help people who were in need.

There are many benefits to fostering more diverse communities for all involved, but this study highlights one that isn’t talked about as much: being immersed in more diverse environments makes us all better people.

Image: Flickr/zoetnet