03/03/2014 19:05 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 06:59 GMT

Racial Tolerance Improved By Living In Ethnically Mixed Areas Says Oxford Study

It may seem like common sense that people can be made less racist by simply moving to live in more ethnically-mixed areas, but now research has proven it.

An Oxford University-led international study found white people develop "passive tolerance" of minorities in mixed areas, even if they have no direct contact with them.

Professor Miles Hewstone, director of the Oxford Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict, said governments could create more "harmonious neighbourhoods" by doing more to encourage different ethnic groups to mix.

"If two white people with identical views went to live in different postcodes for a year, the person in the neighbourhood with more mixing between ethnic groups would likely leave more tolerant," he said.

"We would see this effect even if they never personally spoke to people from other ethnicities.

SEE ALSO: Prejudice: Not Just Whom You Know, But Also Where You Live

"The size of this 'passive tolerance' effect on people's prejudice is of the same order as the effect of passive smoking on lung cancer risk."

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, is based on seven studies carried out in England, mainland Europe, the United States and South Africa between 2002 and 2011.

It found that even highly prejudiced people who did not mix with those of different ethnicities became more tolerant the longer they lived in mixed areas.

The scientists suggest simply seeing white strangers "interacting positively" with ethnic minorities is enough to reduce racial prejudice.

Prof Hewstone, the report's senior author, said: "Astonishingly, we don't just see reduced prejudice among people who have direct contact with ethnic minorities.

"It isn't even confined to those whose friends have contact with minorities. Simply living in a neighbourhood where other people are mixing with minorities is enough to reduce racial prejudice."

He added: "Governments should do more to encourage different groups to mix with each other, as we now know that this reduces prejudice not just in individuals but throughout entire neighbourhoods.

"Social interventions that aim to increase contact between groups will help to establish more tolerant social norms in society. In the long run, this should lead to more harmonious neighbourhoods."