You normally don’t share your diary even with your closest friend, but psychology researchers Michele Gelfand, a Distinguished University Professor at Maryland, and Joshua Conrad Jackson, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, persuaded 100 Pakistanis and 100 Maryland-area residents to open these records of private thoughts to each other.

Michele Gelfand headshotThe goal, they write in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, was to determine if exposure to people’s innermost reflections can overcome distorted, media-driven narratives in both countries, breaking down prejudices against people from another culture.

In our experiment, the perceived “cultural distance” between Pakistan and the United States lessened between those who read diaries kept by members of another culture. This sense of reduced cultural distance led Americans to see Pakistanis as less violent and freer, and Pakistanis to see Americans as more moral and less ignorant of other cultures.

Prejudice reduction studies must be repeatedly tested and replicated to make sure their effects are reliable. We plan to do that with larger and more representative groups.

Diaries hold immense promise as a way of bringing cultures together, providing unfiltered access to the everyday lives of those we may know of only through the media.

Read the rest in the Los Angeles Times.