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date: 23 January 2018

Intergroup Contact

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

Intergroup Contact and Communication

As we seek to overcome the conflicts and barriers between people from different groups, one strategy has emerged as the most likely to be successful. Intergroup contact—interaction between people from different social groups—is broadly acknowledged as a productive approach to reduce prejudice and improve intergroup relations. Allport’s (1954) classic statement of the idea that contact could reduce prejudice has been followed up by a vast array of empirical research demonstrating the efficacy of the technique; indeed, Allport was not the first to suggest the idea (e.g., see Brophy, 1946). This empirical work was summarized in a monumental meta-analysis (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006), showing that contact’s effects extend to a wide variety of intergroup contexts (e.g., interracial, intergenerational, and others), to different measures of prejudice (e.g., explicit and implicit), and across methodological boundaries (i.e., experimental and survey research). Contact works. Not only can various forms of contact improve attitudes towards specific groups, but those effects also generalize to other outgroups, in a process called secondary transfer (Tausch et al., 2010). In other words, contact can increase levels of tolerance and inclusiveness over and above those specific to an outgroup target. Some data suggest that such generalization is partially dependent on similarity between groups, with secondary transfer being stronger between outgroups that are psychologically associated with each other—for instance, from attitudes about refugees to attitudes about illegal immigrants (Harwood, Paolini, Joyce, Rubin, & Arroyo, 2011). While the association between contact and prejudice is clearly bidirectional (less prejudiced people are more willing to engage in contact: Binder et al., 2009), there is clear evidence from longitudinal and experimental work, as well as from cross-sectional work in which contact is enforced (and hence not selectively sought out), that the effect from contact to reduced prejudice is real (Binder et al., 2009). Indeed, the prejudice-reducing effects of contact appear to be stronger for people who have less choice about experiencing the contact (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Most contact research focuses on the interpersonal level (whether an individual has contact); however, examinations of the effects of contact at the contextual level (i.e., merely living in an area where a lot of intergroup contact occurs) suggest similar effects and effects that are independent of a specific level of individual contact (e.g., MacInnis, Page-Gould, & Hodson, 2016). Having personal contact and living in an area where contact is normative both independently predict reduced prejudice; whether they interact with each other in predicting outcomes is somewhat unresolved at this point. While most contact research has examined prejudice or attitudes towards the outgroup as the key dependent variable, some work has examined alternate measures such as stereotyping of the outgroup (Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005), perceived outgroup homogeneity (Soliz & Harwood, 2003), quasi-behavioral outcomes such as intentions to interact with the outgroup in the future (Husnu & Crisp, 2010), and behavioral outcomes like level of intergroup dating (Van Laar, Levin, Sinclair, & Sidanius, 2005).

Forms and Contexts of Contact

Since its original formulation as face-to-face communication between group members, researchers have become interested in forms of contact that do not involve quite such direct communication. Some of these alternates are discussed elsewhere in this series—notably contact involving mediated portrayals (Joyce, this series; Ortiz & Harwood, 2007; Schiappa, Gregg, & Hewes, 2005), and contact through new technology (Amichai-Hamburger & Etgar, this series; Amichai-Hamburger & McKenna, 2006; Walther, 2009). Another alternate to face-to-face communication is extended contact, which involves observing or becoming aware of contact between another ingroup member and a member of the outgroup. Such contact can effectively model positive intergroup relations, demonstrating how it can occur while obviating the need to actually participate in it (Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, & Ropp, 1997). Even just the knowledge of a cross-group friendship between one’s ingroup and an outgroup can change perceptions of social norms, increasing the perception that such relationships are acceptable (Dovidio, Eller, & Hewstone, 2011; Gómez, Tropp, & Fernández, 2011). The same is true for imagined contact—a process of visualizing an intergroup interaction that results in quite similar effects as direct contact (Miles & Crisp, 2014). All of these alternative forms of contact have advantages in terms of reducing the likelihood of anxiety during contact and (when implemented appropriately) removing the possibility of intergroup conflict occurring. As noted earlier, anxiety is a critical mediator of the effects of contact, hence strategies that can provide contact while minimizing anxiety have obvious advantages. These advantages of indirect intergroup contact may be particularly important in social situations characterized by high levels of intergroup conflict or violence, or those featuring high degrees of segregation between groups. Harwood (2010) provides an overview and theoretical framework for understanding contact’s processes and effects across different forms of contact. Building from the observation that contact varies in terms of the richness of the experience, and the degree to which the self is directly involved, he notes that different processes should operate and underlie the relevant mediating and moderating processes, depending on the type of contact occurring. For instance, social norms are more likely to be impacted when other ingroup members are involved in contact, rather than when the self is the sole ingroup participant. As noted by Harwood (and others), various indirect forms of social contact may serve as the foot-in-the-door to more direct forms of contact, increasing willingness and future behavior to engage face-to-face (Amichai-Hamburger & McKenna, 2006). Imagined contact, for instance, increases the desire for future “real” contact (Husnu & Crisp, 2010). A detailed review of various forms of contact is provided by Vezzali, Hewstone, Capozza, Giovannini, and Wölfer (2014).

Contact appears to be effective across all social groups for which it has been examined. Pettigrew and Tropp’s (2006) meta-analysis suggests that it is particularly effective with groups based on sexual orientation, disability, and race, and slightly less effective for prejudice based on age (specifically older adults) and mental illness. It is difficult to assess what might underlie variability in contact’s efficacy across target groups, but broad group-based differences in terms of group visibility, potential threat, and stereotypical characteristics might account for some of this variability. Further research should consider the potential mechanisms by which contact might work differently for different groups, including examination of broader theoretical approaches to differences in intergroup settings (e.g., Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002).

Content of Contact

Allport’s (1954) original formulation of the contact hypothesis suggested that, ideally, contact should feature equal status relations between the participants, should involve the participants in the cooperative (and ultimately successful) pursuit of common goals, should have the potential for future contact, and should have the endorsement of significant authority figures in the environment. Subsequent work has supported the idea that these are facilitating factors for contact to have good outcomes, but that they are not essential (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Additional research suggested that the potential or actual development of friendship across group boundaries might be particularly important (Davies, Tropp, Aron, Pettigrew, & Wright, 2011). These conditions do have fairly direct implications for communication in contact encounters, although they are not typically framed as communication variables. Phenomena like status may be structural (e.g., if someone is the boss in a situation), but relative status is also constructed in dyadic and group settings through communication (Gregory & Webster, 1996)—individuals who talk more and who direct discussions become viewed as leaders. Likewise, the degree to which intergroup contact is cooperative is communication-based, and could be assessed via actions like interruptions, agreements, expressions of support, or explicit denigration of the other. Institutional support suggests that a cultural environment supportive of contact is valuable, and this again suggests communicative dynamics—particularly macro-level communication such as from the mass media and leaders (Pittinsky, 2010). One rather more basic requirement is that contact be positive, or at least that it not be negative (see “Cautions” section). Negative contact clearly does not enhance intergroup relations and may contribute to a spiral of negative attitudes encouraging yet more negative contact. That said, as elaborated below, some degree of negativity, or at least discomfort, may be important for raising legitimate concerns of disadvantaged groups (Dixon & Durrheim, 2003). Building on Pettigrew (1998), it is possible that negative contact is particularly damaging early in relationships, but that stronger and more developed relationships might be able to tolerate some constructively negative discussion.

Some work examines more specific aspects of the content of intergroup communication as it impacts contact. Harwood, Qadar, and Chen (2016) (see also Harwood, 2016) examine contact in music. Building from theoretical emphases on the importance of synchronization, honesty, closeness, and crosscutting identities in creating effective contact situations, they suggest that musical collaborations are an arena in which contact might be particularly effective. Their data suggest that this is true, particularly with vicarious intergroup musical collaborations (i.e., observing an ingroup member and an outgroup member collaborating on a musical project). This suggests that positive effects might occur as a result of popular musical collaborations that bridge cultural divides (e.g., Silkroad, Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal, Ablaye Cissoko – Constantinople-Jardins Migrateurs) (see Harwood, 2016).

Chen, Joyce, Harwood, and Xiang (2016) focus on communication and stereotyping, demonstrating that specific stereotypes link to specific forms of intergroup communication during imagined contact. Specifically, they present a model and supportive data indicating that perceptions of sociability in older adults link to expectations for humorous contact, which has positive implications for perceptions of older people’s sociability. Younger people imagining an encounter with an older person imagine engaging in more humorous exchanges, which in turn leads to increased perceptions that older people are sociable. This work suggests that links between specific stereotype content and specific communicative content during contact should be examined more closely (Hummert, Garstka, Ryan, & Bonnesen, 2004).

Given the overwhelming evidence of contact’s effects, the next sections address how contact works (i.e., mediators of the effect) as well as when and where it works (i.e., moderators of the effect).

Mediators of Contact: Intergroup Anxiety and Others

The primary mediator of contact’s effects that the literature has examined is intergroup anxiety. Broadly, when people engage in intergroup contact, their anxiety is reduced about future intergroup contact and the outgroup more broadly, which enhances intergroup attitudes (Paolini, Hewstone, Cairns, & Voci, 2004; Swart, Hewstone, Christ, & Voci, 2011). While there are not a lot of definitive studies of the communication dynamics associated with this effect, it is likely that any non-confrontational interaction would have an anxiety-reducing effect given pre-existing notions that the outgroup might be threatening or “different” in some way (and, of course, anxiety provoking forms of communication such as insults and conflict might exacerbate rather than ease bias).

Other mediators also exist (Brown & Hewstone, 2005). Intergroup contact may have effects through categorization processes, as outlined in the Common Ingroup Identity Model (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000). Specifically, through intergroup contact, people may become aware of (or create) alternative social categories that unite ingroup and outgroup members—these are called common ingroups. For example, East Germans who used the broader “German” label to categorize themselves and West Germans showed more positive attitudes towards those from the West (Kessler & Mummendey, 2001). Messages emphasizing common identities across group boundaries are typically better expressed by the ingroup than by the outgroup, and when expressed by the outgroup might be rejected by ingroup members (Gómez, Dovidio, Huici, Gaertner, & Cuadrado, 2008).

Contact can also work its effects by enhancing empathy (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008). People who have more contact with outgroup members also have more empathy for the outgroup in general, and this translates into more positive attitudes. Trust is a mediator that undoubtedly overlaps with empathy, and that also appears to mediate contact’s effects (Tam, Hewstone, Kenworthy, & Cairns, 2009). Among more explicitly communicative variables, self-disclosure may help explain this empathy effect—as intergroup contact increases, people disclose more information and receive more disclosure, and hence gain insight into and appreciation for the outgroup’s perspectives and feelings (Ensari & Miller, 2002; Tam, Hewstone, Harwood, Voci, & Kenworthy, 2006). Similar findings emerge suggesting that communication accommodation mediates contact effects (Harwood, Hewstone, Paolini, & Voci, 2005)—when interactants mutually adjust their speech to each other’s abilities and needs, their contact is more likely to yield positive outcomes. Communication accommodation is the (in this case appropriate) adjustment of one’s communication style to a conversational partner (Soliz & Giles, 2014). More globally, the communication literature is replete with variables that have positive relational outcomes (communication satisfaction, willingness to communicate, social support, complimenting, etc.), and it is likely that most of those variables operate similarly in the intergroup environment. Variables that build solid relationships and foster intimacy will also tend to facilitate positive intergroup relationships, which are building blocks for positive intergroup attitudes (Imamura, Zhang, & Harwood, 2011).

Moderators of Contact: Group Salience and Others

Several factors have been investigated for moderating the effects of contact. The most frequently and productively examined of these is the idea of group salience (Brown & Hewstone, 2005; Hewstone & Brown, 1986). Put simply, contact only works if the participants are aware of their respective group memberships. Obviously, this awareness is what gives the participants knowledge that they are actually engaging in intergroup contact—interacting with a gay colleague at work has little potential to change attitudes about gay people if you are not aware that the colleague is gay. Importantly, awareness facilitates generalization: the more aware we are of other people’s group memberships, the more closely our attitudes about those individuals map onto our attitudes about their groups. The same argument has been made concerning group typicality—generalization, from attitudes about an outgroup individual to attitudes about the outgroup as a whole, is more likely when the outgroup member is perceived as typical of their group (Brown & Hewstone, 2005). Data support this suggestion: viewing people as “not a typical [insert group name]” tends to reduce their impact on group outcomes (Brown & Hewstone, 2005), and indeed, individuals who are radically atypical may result in boomerang effects where the atypically positive outgroup member causes stereotype reinforcement (“the exception that proves the rule”: Kunda & Oleson, 1997). We do not know a tremendous amount about the communicative predictors of group salience or typicality, but explicit discussion of group memberships and group-related characteristics is a straightforward way to assess (or in interventions, to increase) the salience of group boundaries (Harwood, Raman, & Hewstone, 2006).

Other moderators have been examined, of course, although none to the degree of group salience. We now know that contact tends to have stronger and more positive effects on majority (or dominant) group members than on minority (or subordinate) group members (Binder et al., 2009). Minority group members’ attitudes towards the majority group are improved by contact, but to a lesser degree than majority group members’ attitudes towards the minority group. This has been explained in part by the very nature of intergroup interactions. Dominant group members often focus intergroup conversation on achieving smooth and pleasant exchange. Subordinate group members, on the other hand, tend to be more satisfied when intergroup interaction addresses issues of their own group memberships and group distinctiveness—important issues, but ones less immediately oriented to pure conversational positivity (Schellhaas & Dovidio, 2016).

Finally, some personality factors have been examined as moderators of contact. Asbrock, Christ, Duckitt, and Sibley (2012) demonstrate that contact is particularly effective among those who score high on right-wing authoritarianism. Right-wing authoritarianism involves feelings of threat from outgroups, and drives prejudice as a threat-reduction response; contact reduces perceived threat and thus reduces prejudice. Research such as this, which explores the effects of contact on the most prejudiced in society, is particularly valuable in demonstrating the applied value of the contact approach (see also Hodson, 2008).

Additional factors facilitate the effects of contact, but have not typically been framed explicitly as moderators. One critical influence is the degree of closeness or intimacy between the individuals in the contact situation. As noted earlier, considerable evidence now shows that intergroup friendships are more likely to influence attitudes than casual or acquaintance-type encounters (Davies et al., 2011), and this includes extended friendships (i.e., the knowledge that an ingroup friend has an outgroup friend: Vonofakou et al., 2008).

Time and Contact

Time plays a critical role in all social processes (indeed, it is implicit in the word “process”), but is rarely given a great deal of attention in social research in general, and intergroup contact work specifically. It is particularly pertinent in work on contact, given that individual contact events and longer term patterns of contact are both organized in time, and that there may be interesting interplay between the ways contact plays out over the short-term versus the long-term time; some of this interplay is outlined here.

Longitudinal work on intergroup contact is rare, and when it does occur it is typically in the service of outlining causal effects, rather than elaborating on how qualitatively different processes unfold over time. In the area of contact, Pettigrew (1998) presents a model including a more sophisticated consideration of time. Building on research concerning different mechanisms for contact’s effects, Pettigrew suggests that early attempts at intergroup communication should feature decategorization: it is best at early stages of an interracial relationship (for instance) to de-emphasize racial boundaries. This allows the relationship to build some history and comfort independent of intergroup tensions. Then, to facilitate generalization from the outgroup individual to the group, the salience of group memberships should be emphasized: the interactants should talk explicitly about race, for instance. This is best done at this stage so that the anxiety typically engendered by group salience can be negated by the participants’ established comfort with one another. Finally, a recategorization process solidifies the benefits of the contact process by destabilizing and questioning the “old” categories, and making the contact participants more comfortable with alternative categorization options (going “beyond” race). As Pettigrew notes, not many relationships will reach this level, but the ones that do will be particularly potent in overcoming prejudice.

Pettigrew’s model has implications for more micro-level interactions as well as the broader relationship-development level at which he is focused. Even in one-shot interactions, it is likely that sequencing the interaction around his progression (i.e., not jumping into category-based discussion and questioning right off the bat) would result in smoother intergroup conversation.

Another approach that considers temporal elements is Paolini, Harris, and Griffin’s (2016) examination of anxiety and contact. They examine the paradox that contact both increases anxiety (cross-group encounters are typically more anxiety provoking than within group encounters), but that anxiety is credited as mediating the positive effects of contact (contact reduces anxiety, which results in reduced prejudice). These authors distinguish episodic from chronic anxiety, and note how specific instances of contact (and the anxiety associated with those) interact in a dynamic manner with the development of (or reduction in) chronic anxiety concerning the outgroup. A similar point about the difference between short-term intergroup interaction negatives and longer-term positives is discussed by MacInnis and Page-Gould (2015).

Abrams and Eller (2017) also examine the temporal context of contact, including how it interacts with intergroup threat over time. They note the broadly “cumulative” framing of the contact literature—that over time contact experiences accumulate and generally lead to positive outcomes. They argue that, in situations of relatively stable contact experiences, a sudden and dramatic event (a terrorist attack, for example) might have significantly more dramatic effects on attitudes and future contact than the ongoing (predictable) pattern of contact. They discuss how specific events and ongoing events are organized over time, and how these may influence how social variables interrelate.

Further to these suggestions concerning the broader temporal context, the specifics of verbal communication surrounding, and especially preceding a contact event deserve more attention. For example, Scroggins, Mackie, Allen, and Sherman (2016) show that labeling of an outgroup member with a common ingroup label (calling a male target a “black UCSB student” versus just “black” for students at UCSB) resulted in less biased evaluations of the target. Such labeling prior to contact events might change the dynamic of the events themselves in ways suggested by the Common Ingroup Identity Model (as described in the mediators section). Similarly, Goldenberg, Endevelt, Ran, Dweck, Gross, and Halperin(2017) show that educating subjects about group malleability (believing that groups can change) increases intergroup cooperation in a situation of intractable conflict (Israeli-Palestinian relations). Notably, they used an experimental intervention that was independent of the actual groups—i.e., participants were simply educated about the ways in which groups in general can change over time. Both studies described in this paragraph suggest that the temporal arrangement of contact, and particularly how the “scene is set” for a contact event, can have important implications for the contact event’s likely outcomes.

Hence, while time has not been a focus of attention in this literature, it features in much theorizing, has the potential to resolve some paradoxes or inconsistencies, and can provide new avenues for creative investigation. Some of this work intersects nicely with theoretical developments in communication such as Slater’s (2007) work on reinforcing spirals, which attends to the ways in which communication events have attitudinal and behavioral outcomes, which in turn influence the selection of and attention to future communication events. These models, that acknowledge the critical role of time and learning in intergroup contact, are poised to substantially advance research in this area—works by Schemer (2012) as well as Atwell Seate and Mastro (2016) provide a strong basis for advancing the literature along these lines.


Despite the optimism expressed thus far about the effects of contact, some cautions are warranted. First, and as noted earlier, contact must be positive for it to be effective. Situations characterized by intergroup mistrust or hatred—the very situations in which contact might be most useful—are unlikely to yield satisfying and intimate connections from unstructured encounters. In fact, in an ironic twist, Paolini, Harwood, and Rubin (2010) demonstrate that negative contact may enhance group salience more than positive contact, and hence that negative contact might have more potential to generalize than positive contact. In other words, our attitudes towards outgroups might be more strongly negatively influenced by negative contact than they are positively influenced by positive contact (Barlow et al., 2012). Contact interventions, therefore, need to be carefully designed to avoid negativity. Dixon, Schell, Giles, and Drogos (2008) examine police-civilian interactions, coming to sophisticated understandings of some of the accommodation dynamics in routine traffic stops, both intra- and interracial. This kind of research might further enhance our understanding of when and how positive contact effects might be possible (or not) in situations with potentially negative outcomes. New data suggest that even positive contact (e.g., via tourist encounters) might have curious negative consequences: Lu, Quoidbach, Gino, Chakroff, Maddux, and Galinsky (2017) show a link between international travel and engaging in immoral behavior (e.g., lying); they suggest that broad intercultural experiences can increase a sense of moral relativism, which results in less moral behavior. Such work suggests that contact researchers’ examinations of specific positive outcomes might sometimes need to be balanced against potential negative outcomes that are currently rarely considered. Undoubtedly, there are antidotes to the negative effects that would allow the positive to be retained.

A second caution concerns the possible impact of contact on social action that would move society towards greater genuine intergroup equality (Dixon, Levine, Reicher, & Durrheim, 2012). Amidst a focus on improving intergroup attitudes, it has become clear that some forms of positive attitude change are associated with reduced desire for structural and policy activity to improve the situation of disadvantaged groups. For subordinate group members, positive contact with the dominant group can result in a sense that the dominant group has the subordinate group’s best interests at heart, and therefore a reduced desire to express dissent concerning the position of the subordinate group (Dovidio, Gaertner, & Saguy, 2009). Among dominant group members, satisfying and equal status interactions may distract attention from real inequalities, emphasizing instead commonalities and shared identities with the subordinate group (Schellhaas & Dovidio, 2016). Interestingly, Becker, Wright, Lubensky, and Zhou (2013) demonstrate that explicit statements by dominant group members, that intergroup inequality is illegitimate, overcome these kinds of effects. That is, when dominant group members explicitly communicate the unfairness of an intergroup situation, contact does not suppress action to redress inequality (see also Saguy & Dovidio, 2013). Unsurprisingly, therefore, communication is critical to understanding how and why more fundamental societal inequity can remain on the agenda while positive intergroup relationships are explored.

Discussion and Future Directions

Beyond the suggestions for future work in the areas already discussed, further work on communication and intergroup contact might focus in three specific areas. First, communication scholars are well equipped to examine the actual communication going on in intergroup encounters, how it differs from intragroup communication, and how contact-related effects differ based on specific communication parameters. Relatively little such work exists, and surprisingly, it is more often done by psychologists than by communication scholars (e.g., Trawalter & Richeson, 2008). Such research would begin to integrate the intergroup contact literature with the larger literature on intergroup communication, much of which has implications for contact effects. For example, in intergroup contact events, does linguistic intergroup bias emerge, and does it affect how people respond to outgroup members? When we praise an outgroup member, for instance, do we do so in a more concrete manner (“You did really well on that task!”) compared to an ingroup member (“You are really smart!”), and do the targets of such bias notice such subtleties with the attendant consequences for generalized attitude change towards outgroups (Porter, Rheinschmidt-Same, & Richeson, 2016)? Does enacting or perceiving nonverbal signals of intergroup anxiety impair the quality of contact and result in less positive changes in intergroup attitudes (West & Turner, 2014)? More broadly, do effects identified in the broad and diverse literature on intergroup communication translate sensibly into the prejudice-reduction outcomes hypothesized in the contact literature (Sutton, 2010; Wigboldus & Douglas, 2007)?

Second, further attention should be given to how varied forms and types of contact interact. This would include continued exploration of how mediated contact interacts with interpersonal contact (Pagotto & Voci, 2013; Saleem, Yang, & Ramasubramanian, 2016). Suggestions exist in the literature that mediated contact has stronger effects on people who have limited interpersonal contact (Shim, Zhang, & Harwood, 2012), but the empirical data on that issue are far from definitive (Ramasubramanian, 2013). Consideration of environments in which mediated and interpersonal contact are dynamically combined (e.g., collaborative video game play: Eastin, Appiah, & Cicchirllo, 2009) would fit nicely in a more integrated approach to contact, as would examination of the full ecology of people’s contact environments (Dixon & Durrheim, 2003). For instance, rather than examining individual positive or negative encounters, we might examine whether there is a ratio of positive to negative encounters that results in broadly positive contact outcomes, and the extent to which positive encounters buffer the effects of negative ones (Paolini, Harwood, Rubin, Husnu, Joyce, & Hewstone, 2014). One example of such research is provided by Christ et al. (2010), who show that extended contact is more effective among people who have relatively little direct contact. An interesting angle on this is provided by La Macchia, Louis, Hornsey, Thai, and Barlow (2016), who show that self-presentation demands (e.g., a preference to “look good”) influence reports of interracial contact: people report more ingroup contact when trying to look good. In other words, people operate under an implicit assumption that reporting interracial contact is not a good means for self-presentation. Third, we should get more information about when and why people seek out intergroup contact. The literature on mediated contact has helped us understand people’s avoidance of intergroup media (Reid, Giles, & Abrams, 2004), their seeking of ingroup portrayals (Harwood, 1999; Knobloch-Westerwick & Hastall, 2006), and some factors influencing when people do actively seek intergroup media. For instance, Joyce and Harwood (unpublished manuscript, 2015) show that individuals seeking positive perceptions of their group (social enhancement motivations) are drawn to media portrayals of intergroup interaction in which ingroup members are portrayed as having higher status than outgroup members. On the interpersonal or direct contact side of things, we know relatively little about people’s motivations for approaching people from outgroups. However, Paolini, Wright, Dys‐Steenbergen, and Favara (2016) show that self-expansion motives (a desire to grow personally and enrich oneself) are associated with a greater desire to engage in intergroup contact and result in more positive intergroup interactions. Given the demonstrated benefits of intergroup contact, understanding more about how to encourage it in naturalistic settings should be a focus for future research.

Further Reading

Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2011). When groups meet: The dynamics of intergroup contact. New York: Psychology Press.Find this resource:

Vezzali, L., & Stathi, S. (Eds.). (2017). Intergroup contact theory: Recent developments and future directions. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Wagner, U., Tropp, L. R., Finchilescu, G., & Tredoux, C. (Eds.). (2008). Improving intergroup relations. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Find this resource:


Abrams, D., & Eller, A. D. (2017). A temporally integrated model of intergroup contact and threat (TIMICAT). In L. Vezzali & S. Stathi (Eds.), Intergroup contact theory: Recent developments and future (pp. 72–91). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.Find this resource:

Amichai-Hamburger, Y., & McKenna, K. (2006). The contact hypothesis reconsidered: Interacting via the Internet. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 825–843.Find this resource:

Asbrock, F., Christ, O., Duckitt, J., & Sibley, C. G. (2012). Differential effects of intergroup contact for authoritarians and social dominators: A dual process model perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 477–490.Find this resource:

Atwell Seate, A., & Mastro, D. (2016). Media’s influence on immigration attitudes: An intergroup threat theory approach. Communication Monographs, 83, 194–213.Find this resource:

Barlow, F. K., Paolini, S., Pedersen, A., Hornsey, M. J., Radke, H. R. M., Harwood, J., et al. (2012). The contact caveat: Negative contact predicts increased prejudice more than positive contact predicts reduced prejudice. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1629–1643.Find this resource:

Becker, J. C., Wright, S. C., Lubensky, M. E., & Zhou, S. (2013). Friend or ally: Whether cross-group contact undermines collective action depends on what advantaged group members say (or don’t say). Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 442–455.Find this resource:

Binder, J., Zagefka, H., Brown, R., Funke, F., Kessler, T., Mummendey, A., et al. (2009). Does contact reduce prejudice or does prejudice reduce contact? A longitudinal test of the contact hypothesis among majority and minority groups in three European countries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 843–856.Find this resource:

Brophy, I. N. (1946). The luxury of anti-Negro prejudice. Public Opinion Quarterly, 9, 456–466.Find this resource:

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.Find this resource:

Chen, C-Y., Joyce, N., Harwood, J., & Xiang, J. (2016). Stereotype reduction through humor and accommodation during imagined communication with older adults. Communication Monographs, 84, 94–109.Find this resource:

Christ, O., Hewstone, M., Tausch, N., Wagner, U., Voci, A., Hughes, J., et al. (2010). Direct contact as a moderator of extended contact effects: Cross-sectional and longitudinal impact on outgroup attitudes, behavioral intentions, and attitude certainty. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 1662–1674.Find this resource:

Davies, K., Tropp, L. R., Aron, A., Pettigrew, T. F., & Wright, S. C. (2011). Cross-group friendships and intergroup attitudes A meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 332–351.Find this resource:

Dixon, J., & Durrheim, K. (2003). Contact and the ecology of racial division. British Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 1–23.Find this resource:

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