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Hypothesizing intergroup contact

Gordon Allport posited that under certain conditions, intergroup contact can reduce intergroup prejudice. Research shows support for this hypothesis i
© Summary by Ruobing Chi, Shanghai International Studies University

Gordon Allport posited that under certain conditions, intergroup contact can reduce intergroup prejudice. Subsequent research supports this hypothesis, and also demonstrates its applicability to many areas of study.

Why, do you think, this field of intercultural communication advocates contact between different cultural groups?

In 1954, Allport proposed the “intergroup contact hypothesis”, which states that intergroup contact would help promote positive intergroup relations by reducing prejudice, if they occur under the right conditions. He posited four optimal conditions:

  1. both groups perceive that they are at equal status in the situation;
  2. the groups are in a cooperative rather than competitive relation;
  3. the two groups set common goals to achieve;
  4. there is support for such contacts from social and institutional authorities.

Since then, this hypothesis has inspired and guided many studies aimed at discerning the effects of intergroup contacts on intergroup relations. Researchers have tried to test it in different situations (where the conditions are present or not) and with different groups (by ethnicity, nationality, language, age, sexual orientation, profession, and body (dis)ability). Most of the research supported Allport’s claim (Pettigrew, 1998).

Researchers have since developed and fine-tuned the hypothesis by expanding it into areas that were left unaddressed or not clearly defined. One scholar suggested that it was equally as likely that less prejudiced people initiated more contact (not just that more contact causes less prejudice).

Others note the optimal four conditions are facilitative but not essential for achieving the effects. Sometimes, mere exposure to other groups could do the trick. But intergroup friendship did emerge as an important predicting variable for the reduction of prejudice.

One of the most important empirical findings is that the effects of intergroup contact will typically generalize to each of the whole groups involved. Sometimes, they even spread to other outgroups (Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew, Tropp, Wagner, and Christ, 2010) so if contacts are positive, they bring positive results for many.

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 65-85.
Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2008). Allport’s Intergroup Contact Hypothesis: Its History and Influence On the Nature of Prejudice (pp. 262-277): Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Pettigrew, T. F., Tropp, L. R., Wagner, U., & Christ, O. (2011). Recent advances in intergroup contact theory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(3), 271-280.

Online resources:

© Summary by Ruobing Chi, Shanghai International Studies University
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Intercultural Communication: Dynamics of cultural identities in global interaction

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