Think back to your school classroom, when students from different backgrounds would work together to resolve the occasional squabble. Now scale that to a community of almost six million living together on a tiny red dot. What’s the secret to getting along in a multicultural society such as Singapore? According to psychologists, it’s civility—A set of behavioral rules and responsibilities for minimizing conflict and creating a harmonious society.
Understanding and tracking trends in civility are critical, especially given Singapore’s position as a tourism and business hub. The current commonly used training is to send employees to service quality courses, but there is still no quantitative way to assess improvements given that existing analyses of civility do not fully take into account the complex variables present in Singapore culture.
To bridge this gap, a team led by Samuel Gan of A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII) first generated a civility inventory based on existing literature. Additional measurements of self-consciousness, social anxiety, rationality and experientiality—one’s faith in their intuition, gained through experience—were also layered on in an online survey delivered to 220 participants in Singapore.
The researchers found that civility increased with age and experientiality, but decreased in the face of social anxiety. “This finding is relevant to the ongoing pandemic, where civility may decline due to a general increase of social anxiousness,” Gan said. To counter this trend, he suggests that exposing people to the hardships of others could help them be more empathetic. “Empathy from experientiality will help responses in civility,” Gan added.
Contrary to both popular belief and the consensus in the literature, women and people of higher socioeconomic standing were not statistically more civil compared to other groups. “In Singapore, we’ve probably overcome the perception that boys must be loud and rude to be manly,” Gan said. Education has also largely been equitable between sexes, so civil upbringing has been, too.
Noting that these rationales are purely speculative, Gan hopes that future studies will provide more granularity around the team’s findings. “Moving forward, I would like to qualitatively assess the self-esteem and social anxiety of the various socio-economic groups to help target [civility campaigns] better,” he said.
The A*STAR-affiliated researchers contributing to this research are from the Bioinformatics Institute (BII).