Xenophobia is the fear of outsiders or strangers. The term is most commonly applied to people who are afraid of immigrants or people from unfamiliar, foreign cultures.

While xenophobia can be a true phobia, it is often used in ways similar to the term homophobia. In this context, xenophobia characterizes people who dislike foreigners, believe their country’s culture is superior, or wish to keep immigrants out of their country. Xenophobics may not actually have a true phobia of outsiders; instead, they manifest behaviors that are detrimental or in opposition to outsiders. Thus the term has strong political connotations.

In the United States, several political groups have rallied to oppose illegal immigration by Hispanic people, particularly those from Mexico. In some cases, these groups oppose all immigration by people from Mexico. This opposition is sometimes couched in terms of fear. For example, anti-immigration groups may express fear of crime or lost jobs. Pro-immigration groups and Hispanic advocacy organizations have decried these groups as xenophobic.

Xenophobia in Psychology
When xenophobia manifests as a true phobia, it comes in two distinct forms:

  1. Cultural xenophobia occurs when a person fears a foreign culture.
  2. Stranger or immigrant xenophobia occurs when someone is frightened of people or groups perceived to be outsiders.

Some evolutionary psychologists have argued that xenophobia may be a part of the human genetic behavioral heritage. Perhaps the tendency toward xenophobia protected human ancestors from outside groups who might do them harm. Other scientists have complained that this is little more than an evolutionary just-so story. They point out that the genetic xenophobia claim is supported by no evidence and could be used as an excuse to justify and naturalize racism and discriminatory anti-immigration policies.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Evolutionary just-so stories. (n.d.). Explananda. Retrieved from http://www.explananda.com/2005/01/20/evolutionary-just-so-stories/

Last Updated: 08-28-2015

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