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The term Nativism is used in both politics and psychology in two fundamentally different ways.

Political Nativism

American Nativism arose as a reaction to the dislocations in labor supply and work opportunities occasioned by the surges in immigration after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and after the failed European revolutions of 1848, when about 3 million Europeans immigrated into the United States, enough of them from Roman Catholic countries for 'nativism' to become associated with the 'anti-papist' prejudice of post-colonial Protestants, who were the traditional majority. This movement ensured that those born in America would receive preferential treatment. In 1849, a secret nativist society called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, was formed in New York as a result of the fear of immigrants. Members of the Order became known as the Know-Nothings, because no one would admit to knowing anything about the secret society. The Nativists went public in 1854 when they formed the 'American Party,' which was anti-Irish-Catholic and campaigned for laws to require longer wait time between immigration and naturalization.

This form of nationalism often identified with xenophobia, anti-Catholic sentiment (anti-papist) and ideas of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant supremacy. In California, nativists vented their resentment against the Chinese. In the south, during Reconstruction and again in the 1920s, nativist Ku Klux Klan members were as intolerant of Catholics as of blacks. Nativist sentiment experienced a revival in the 1880s, in response to new waves of immigation. It was involved in several anti-Catholic riots in the late 19th century, including the Philadelphia Nativist Riots. In 1928, nativist bias was an important feature of the defeat of Presidential candidate, Alfred E. Smith, a Catholic. During World War II, 'nativist' undercurrents fueled the Japanese American Internment.

American nativist resentment experienced a resurgence in the late 20th century, this time directed at 'illegal aliens,' largely Asian and Mexican.

Compare White Australia policy

Psychological Nativism

In psychology, nativism is the view that certain skills or abilities are 'native' or hard wired into the brain at birth. This is in contrast to the 'blank slate' or tabula rasa view which states that the brain has little innate ability and almost everything is learnt through interaction with the environment.

Nativism is most associated with the work of Jerry Fodor, Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, who argue that we are born with certain cognitive models (specialised genetically inherited psychological abilities) that allow us to learn and acquire certain skills (such as language). They argue that many such abilities would otherwise be greatly impaired without this genetic contribution (see universal grammar for an example).

Psychologist Annette Karmiloff-Smith has put forward a theory known as the representational redescription or RR model of development which argues against such strict nativism and which proposes that the brain may become modular through experience within certain domains (such as social interaction or visual perception) rather than modules being genetically pre-specified.

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