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date: 09 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

Contact between members of different groups has long been advocated as a productive means for reducing intergroup prejudice. The empirical evidence supports this notion, with hundreds of studies indicating that people (especially people from dominant groups) gain more positive attitudes towards other groups (typically non-dominant groups) by communicating with members of those groups. Generalization from the individual group member to the group as a whole is stronger when the target’s group membership is salient during the encounter, albeit that generalization might be positive or negative. Recent years have seen expanded definitions of intergroup contact, moving from direct face-to-face contact to broader realms such as imagining interaction with the outgroup, contacting the outgroup through interactive (e.g., computer) or non-interactive (e.g., broadcast) media, and becoming aware of or observing contact involving other ingroup and outgroup members. Several suggestions for the most effective content of contact have been supplied, but the most definitive recommendation is simply that the contact not be negative: contact involving extensive conflict and negative emotions do not reduce prejudice. The effects of contact can occur through a wide variety of mediators, but the most commonly studied have been anxiety and empathy: contact reduces anxiety and increases empathy, and those emotional responses translate into more positive intergroup attitudes. Counter-intuitively, some evidence suggests that contact is most effective for people with higher levels of pre-existing prejudice. Contact can have some ironic negative effects on progress towards societal equity. In particular, considerable evidence suggests that harmonious intergroup contact can reduce perceptions of inequality and suppress the motivation for social change for dominant and subordinate groups. For subordinate groups specifically, a positive intergroup experience with a dominant group member can reduce the drive to actively challenge the status quo.

Keywords: intergroup communication, intergroup contact, prejudice

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