In brief

A survey of 220 Singaporeans has shown that civility increases with age and life experiences.

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How civil are Singaporeans?

30 Apr 2021

Using newly-developed tools, researchers discover that age and social anxiety are amongst the unique determinants of civility in Singapore.

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).

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Cheok, T.S., Quek, Y.S., Choo, B.J.K, Gan, S.K.E. What makes one civil?: The associations between civility scores, gender, rational-experiential processing styles, self-consciousness and socioeconomic factors in Singapore, APD Trove 3, 3 (2020) | article

About the Researcher

Samuel Gan was the Senior Principal Investigator at the Antibody and Product Development Lab of A*STAR and is adjunct Associate Professor at James Cook University Singapore (JCUS). Gan’s cross-disciplinary research interests include antibody engineering and virus drug resistance for sagacious drug design. He has been recognised as one of the “World’s Most Promising Researchers” in the Interstellar Initiative by the New York Academy of Sciences and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, as well as one of the 30 world class fusion innovators in the book “Innovation Through Fusion” by SP Jain School of Global Management. He is also the Bronze winner of the inaugural Merck Lab Connectivity Challenge 2020, and the 2021-22 “Science and Sustainability” category of the UK Alumni Awards, Singapore.

This article was made for A*STAR Research by Wildtype Media Group