"In Europe and the United States, we tend to feel like we're at the top of the pecking order and that's how it's supposed to be," Yakushko said. "There's no sense that we're all in this together."
But immigration does not always spark panic, she says. And even in times of crisis, not everyone reacts with prejudice. That suggests that xenophobia may come from outside of us, instead of being embedded within us.
"I think if it were innate, we would all just go bonkers about how the immigrants are coming, and we don't," she said. "A host of other people feel such a commitment to welcoming them, to say, ‘My gosh, these people are traumatized and fighting for their lives and trying to save their children, and I want to help.'"
Paris Attacks: Inside the Minds of Terrorists
Research also suggests a way out. For a 2013 study, Yakushko and colleagues surveyed Norwegian students about their attitudes toward immigrants. They found that living near or being exposed frequently to foreigners didn't make respondents more accepting of foreigners. But when they had direct and meaningful contact with members of other groups, they were far more likely to care about their stories and far less likely to be afraid.