- Danielle L. BlaylockDanielle L. BlaylockQueen's University Belfast
- and Nina BriggsNina BriggsQueens University Belfast
Formalized by Gordon Allport in 1954, the contact hypothesis posits that positive contact between members of different groups can, under certain conditions, reduce prejudice and promote more harmonious intergroup relations. These conditions include contact situations which promote equal status between group members, encourage the pursuit of common goals, are characterized by cooperation as opposed to competition, and have institutional support or authority sanction. Among social scientists, positive intergroup contact is among the most effective strategies for reducing prejudice, with an impressive research base attesting to its effectiveness across contexts and target-groups using a variety of methodological approaches. The effects of contact are found to generalize from the interaction partner to the wider outgroup, and to other secondary outgroups not directly involved in the contact experience; this is particularly true when group membership is made salient during the encounter. Contact can take a variety of direct forms, from more intense and sustained interactions between close friends to brief encounters between strangers, as well as more indirect forms such as intergroup interactions through various computer-mediated forums, imagined interactions between the self and an outgroup partner, to observation or awareness of interactions involving other ingroup and outgroup members. While several mediators have been suggested, the contact–prejudice relationship appears to be driven by a reduction in negative affect, such as anxiety, and by inducing positive affective processes, such as empathy. Evidence suggests that positive contact can be particularly beneficial for individuals with pre-existing negative attitudes. For members of advantaged groups, positive intergroup contact is associated with a greater support for intergroup equality and social change; however, for disadvantaged groups, positive intergroup contact can lead to a sedative effect where perceived intergroup harmony can reduce perceptions of inequality and dampen the motivation to engage in activity to support social change. Emerging research exploring the effects of negative contact experiences suggests that negative contact can exacerbate intergroup bias through similar and distinct routes as positive contact reduces it. Critics point to methodological concerns and a research base that neglects more complex and nuanced interactions found in the real world, particularly those in historically divided societies. However, recent technological and statistical innovations offer the potential to advance the field’s understanding of how positive intergroup contact can be used to promote a more harmonious society.
- Social Psychology