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Contact hypothesis

Dr. Simon Moss

Overview
Many researchers are interested in programs and initiatives that can curb prejudice and increase receptivity to diversity. The contact hypothesis concerns the proposition that, at least in some contexts, mere exposure or interactions with other ethnicities or groups can reduce prejudice (see Allport, 1979; Amir & Katz, 1976).

The issue, however, is complex. For example, observing, but not interacting, with other ethnic groups has been sometimes shown to exacerbate, not curb, prejudice and discrimination. Nevertheless, prejudice can subside in individuals whose friends interact with other minorities.

Factors that moderate the benefits of contact
Numerous studies have shown that various forms of contact with individuals from other groups--other ethnicities, religions, ages, genders, occupations, and so forth--can reduce prejudice towards members of these collectives. Recent research, however, has begun to factors that might moderate the benefits of contact.

Context of contact
Some studies, for example, have shown the context in which these interactions proceed can affect whether or not contact will curb predudice. Hamberger and Hewstone (1997), for example, showed that contact with other ethnicities within the workgroup context does not curb prejudice. That is, individuals may believe that such relationships do not reflect any genuine bond or similarity. Indeed, ethnic minorities at work may sometimes be regarded as rivals for scare resources and jobs. Prejudices can sometimes intensify rather than diminish.

Quality of contact
The quality of contact also can affect prejudice (Pettigrew, 1997, 1998). Indeed, some studies show that incidental but regular exposure to minorities can amplify these prejudicial attitudes (e.g., Smith, Miller, Maitner, Crump, Garcia-Marques, & Mackie, 2006).

For example, sometimes employees might observe colleagues with other qualifications or ethnicities in the workplace but not interact with these individuals. Accordingly, these colleagues begin to feel more familiar. Familiarity without interaction, however, increases the likelihood that employees will rely on stereotypes to evaluate other colleagues. That is, when individuals feel that a colleague feels familiar, they do not evaluate this person carefully and methodically. Instead, to conserve effort, they apply stereotypes (e.g., Smith, Miller, Maitner, Crump, Garcia-Marques, & Mackie, 2006).

For example, consider an employee who observes a person with shabby clothes at a corporate function. This other person will thus seem familiar to the employee. Hence, they will apply stereotypes of individuals who wear shabby clothes to evaluation this person.

To substantiate this proposition, in one study, conducted by Smith, Miller, Maitner, Crump, Garcia-Marques, and Mackie (2006), participants received limited information about a person--an accountant-- and were instructed to characterize the personality of this individual. Some of the participants had been exposed to photographs of this person before. These participants were especially likely to apply the stereotypes of accountants when characterizing the person.

Salience of group membership

Brown and Hewstone (2005; Hewstone & Brown, 1986) argue that group membership must be salience to ensure that contact curbs prejudice and unfavorable attitudes to outgroups.  If group membership is not salient, any exposure to some minority might not generalize to other members of that constituency.

Extensions to the contact hypothesis
Vicarious or extended contact
Some scholars posit that individuals do not themselves need to be exposed to individuals from other minorities or demographics. Instead, if their friends often interact with other minorities or demographics, their prejudices will also diminish (Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, & Ropp, 1997).

Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, and Ropp (1997) indeed accumulated evidence to support this proposition. In one of their studies, some participants engaged in a cooperative game with someone from another group. When these participants then return to discuss this experience with their own group, the prejudices of all individuals diminished.

Other authors have also substantiated this extended contact hypothesis. This observation has been observed in both children (see Cameron, Rutland, Brown, & Douch, 2006) and adults (Paolini, Hewstone, Cairns, & Voci, 2004; Turner, Hewstone, & Voci, 2007; Turner, Hewstone, Voci, and Vonofakou, 2008).

Mechanisms that underpin the benefits of contact
Studies have also been conducted to understand the mechanisms that underpin the benefits of contact. Turner, Hewstone, Voci, and Vonofakou (2008), for example, uncovered four mechanisms that underpin the benefits of extended or vicarious contact.
 
Intergroup anxiety
First, Turner, Hewstone, Voci, and Vonofakou (2008) found the relationship between extended contact--that is, the perception that friends interact with a minority--and attitude to that minority was partly mediated by intergroup anxiety. In their study, the participants were White British students.  Intergroup anxiety was measured with questions like "Please think of how...(awkward or self conscious)...how you would feel (if you) mixed socially with complete strangers who are Asians". 

Intergroup anxiety was lower in individuals whose friends know Asian individuals. 
As a consequence, during future exchanges with anyone from these ethnicities, these individuals are more relaxed and thus more inclined to focus their attention on favourable facets of the interaction (cf. Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, & Ropp, 1997).

Positive ingroup norms
Second, Turner, Hewstone, Voci, and Vonofakou (2008) found the relationship between extended contact with a minority and attitude to that minority was partly mediated by perceived ingroup norms.  That is, if the friends of participants interact with some constituency, these participants assume that such behaviour is typical, which governs their own attitudes.  Specifically, in this study, White, British individuals whose friends spoke to Asians were more likely to "think (their) White friends are (friendly) to Asian people". 

Positive outgroup norms
Third, Turner, Hewstone, Voci, and Vonofakou (2008) found the relationship between extended contact with a minority and attitude to that minority was partly mediated by perceived outgroup norms.  In particular, if the friends of participants interact with some constituency, these participants assume these ethnicities must also be willing to interact with their ethnicity or race.  That is, they endorsed items such as "...Asian people like White people (a lot)"

Inclusion of outgroup in the self
Finally, Turner, Hewstone, Voci, and Vonofakou (2008) found the relationship between extended contact with a minority and attitude to that minority was partly mediated by the degree to which the outgroup is assumed to overlap with the self.  If the friends of participants interact with some constituency, these participants perceive this ethnicity as connected, not segregated, from their conceptualization of themselves. 

Extended versus direct friendships
Some of these mechanisms--intergroup anxiety, positive ingroup norms, and positive outgroup norms-may not mediate the relationship between direct contact with some minority and attitudes towards that minority.   Further evidence is warranted to establish whether the same mediators apply to direct, rather thanvicarious, contact. 

Some evidence has been collected.  Islam and Hewstone (1993), for example, showed that intergroup anxiety mediated the relationship between direct contact and attitudes to outgroups. 

Other possible mechanisms
Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, and Ropp (1997) argued that extended contact might also enhance knowledge about the other constituency, which could further curb prejudice.  Nevertheless, this proposition has not been substantiated empirically. 

Tam, Hewstone, Harwood, Voci, and Kenworthy (2006) showed that empathy also mediated the relationship between direct contact and attitudes to outgroups. 


References
Allport, G. W. (1979). The nature of prejudice (25th anniversary ed.). Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

Amir, Y., & Katz, P. (1976). The role of intergroup contact in change of prejudice and race relations. In P. A. Katz (Ed.), Towards the elimination of racism (pp. 245-308). New York: Pergamon Press.

Brown, R., & Hewstone, H. (2005). An integrative theory of intergroup contact. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 37, pp. 255-343). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Cameron, L., Rutland, A., Brown, R., & Douch, R. (2006). Changing children's intergroup attitudes toward refugees: Testing different models of extended contact. Child Development, 77, 1208-1219.

Cook, S. W. (1978). Interpersonal and attitudinal outcomes in co-operating interracial groups. Journal of Research in Developmental Education, 12, 97-113.

Cameron, L., Rutland, A., Brown, R., & Douch, R. (2006). Changing children's intergroup attitudes toward refugees: Testing different models of extended contact. Child Development, 77, 1208-1219. 

Cook, S. W. (1978). Interpersonal and attitudinal outcomes in co-operating interracial groups. Journal of Research in Developmental Education, 12, 97-113.

Cooper, J., & Hogg, M. A. (2007). Feeling the anguish of others: A theory of vicarious dissonance. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 39, pp. 359-403). San Diego, CA: Academic Press. 

Hamberger, J., & Hewstone, M. (1997). Inter-ethnic contact as a predictor of blatant and subtle prejudice: Tests of a model in four Western European nations. British Journal of Social Psychology, 36, 173-190. 

Hewstone, M., & Brown, R. (1986). Contact is not enough: An intergroup perspective on the ÔÇ£contact hypothesis.ÔÇØ In M. Hewstone & R. Brown (Eds.), Contact and conflict in intergroup encounters (pp. 1-44). Oxford, UK: Blackwell. 

Islam, M. R., & Hewstone, M. (1993). Dimensions of contact as predictors of intergroup anxiety, perceived out-group variability, and out-group attitude: An integrative model. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 700-710.

Levin, S., van Laar, C., & Sidanius, J. (2003). The effects of ingroup and outgroup friendships on ethnic attitudes in college: A longitudinal study. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 6, 76-92. 

Liebkind, K., & McAlister, A. L. (1999). Extended contact through peer modelling to promote tolerance in Finland. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29, 765-780.

Paolini, S., Hewstone, M., & Cairns, E. (2007). Direct and indirect friendship effects: Testing the moderating role of the affective-cognitive bases of prejudice. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1406-1420. 

Paolini, S., Hewstone, M., Cairns, E., & Voci, A. (2004). Effects of direct and indirect cross-group friendships on judgments of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: The mediating role of an anxiety-reduction mechanism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 770-786. 

Pettigrew, T. F. (1979). The ultimate attribution error: Extending Allport's cognitive analysis of prejudice. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5, 461-476. 

Pettigrew, T. F. (1997). Generalized intergroup contact effects on prejudice. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 173-185. 

Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup contact: Theory, research and new perspectives. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 65-85. 

Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 751-783. 

Phinney, J. S., Ferguson, D. L., & Tate, J. D. (1997). Intergroup attitudes among ethnic minority adolescents: A causal model. Child Development, 68, 955-969. 

Smith, E. R., Miller, D. A.,  Maitner, A. T., Crump, S. A., Garcia-Marques, T., & Mackie, D. M. (2006).  Familiarity can increase stereotyping. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 471-478.

Stephan, W. G., & Stephan, C. W. (1984). The role of ignorance in intergroup relations. In N. Miller & M. B. Brewer (Eds.), Groups in contact: The psychology of desegregation. (pp. 229-255). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

Stephan, W. G., & Stephan, C. W. (1985). Intergroup anxiety. Journal of Social Issues, 41, 157-176. 

Tam, T., Hewstone, M., Harwood, J., Voci, A., & Kenworthy, J. (2006). Intergroup contact and grandparent-grandchild communication: The effects of self-disclosure on implicit and explicit biases against older people. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 9, 413-430.

Tropp, L. R., & Pettigrew, T. F. (2005). Relationships between intergroup contact and prejudice among minority and majority status groups. Psychological Science, 16, 951-957. 

Tropp, L. R., & Wright, S. C. (2001). Ingroup identification as the inclusion of ingroup in the self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 585-600. 

Turner, R. N., Hewstone, M., & Voci, A. (2007). Reducing explicit and implicit prejudice via direct and extended contact: The mediating role of self-disclosure and intergroup anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 369-388. 

Turner, R. N., Hewstone, M., Voci, A., Paolini, S., & Christ, O. (2007). Reducing prejudice via direct and extended cross-group friendship. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European Review of Social Psychology (Vol. 19, pp. 212-255). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

Turner, R. N., Hewstone, M., Voci, A., & Vonofakou, C. (2008).  A test of the extended intergroup contact hypothesis: The mediating role of intergroup anxiety, perceived ingroup and outgroup norms, and inclusion of the outgroup in the self.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 843-860.

Vonofakou, C., Hewstone, M., & Voci, A. (2007). Contact with out-group friends as a predictor of meta-attitudinal strength and accessibility of attitudes toward gay men. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 804-820. 

Wagner, U., Hewstone, M., & Machleit, U. (1989). Contact and prejudice between Germans and Turks: A correlational study. Human Relations, 42, 561-574.

Wagner, U., van Dick, R., Pettigrew, T. F., & Christ, O. (2003). Ethnic prejudice in East and West Germany: The explanatory power of intergroup contact. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 6, 22-36. 

Wilder, D. A. (1984). Intergroup contact: The typical member and the exception to the rule. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 20, 177-194. 

Wilder, D., & Simon, A. F. (2001). Affect as a cause of intergroup bias. In R. Brown & S. L. Gaertner (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Intergroup processes (pp. 153-172). Malden, MA: Blackwell. 

Wright, S. C., Aron, A., McLaughlin-Volpe, T., & Ropp, S. A. (1997). The extended contact effect: Knowledge of cross-group friendships and prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 73-90.



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Last Update: 6/13/2016