Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

A Social Cognitive Theory Approach to the Effects of Mediated Intergroup Contact on Intergroup Attitudes

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

A Social Cognitive Theory Approach to the Effects of Mediated Intergroup Contact on Intergroup Attitudes

Article excerpt

Intergroup contact is an effective approach for the reduction of prejudice, negative stereotyping, and discrimination. In order to produce positive outcomes, Allport (1954) argued that certain conditions within the contact situation have to be met: equal status among the individuals; individuals share common goals; individuals work together to achieve such goals; and, contact has the support of authorities (i.e., social norms favor intergroup cooperation and interaction) (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000; Pettigrew, 1998). Almost 50 years after Allport's original work, Pettigrew and Tropp's (2000) meta-analysis showed that contact meeting Allport's conditions resulted in decreased intergroup bias. Optimal intergroup contact, however, can be difficult to achieve given the anxiety and hostility that sometimes pervade intergroup relations (Stephan & Stephan, 1985). This anxiety and hostility carries the threat of creating negative rather than positive outcomes. This study examines whether vicariously experiencing optimal intergroup contact in the media provides similar effects to real world intergroup contact, without the risk of accompanying anxiety. Below is an examination of the intergroup contact literature and social cognitive theory as the bases for the specific hypotheses in this study.

Intergroup Contact Theory

One central area of concern in contact theory has been the extent to which a specific positive intergroup experience generalizes to broader attitudes. Can a single conversation with an older adult, for instance, change a young person's more general attitudes about older people? Following Allport's (1954) initial formulation of the contact hypothesis, Hewstone and Brown (1986) argued that group membership typicality or representativeness in intergroup encounters facilitates generalization from a specific experience to more general attitudes. If an outgroup member is not seen as representative of his/her group, then contact is considered interpersonal and the effects will not generalize--the outgroup member may be treated as an exception. When the person is viewed as representative of the group, then treating them as an exception, or ignoring group memberships becomes more difficult and the specific encounter is more likely to be generalized. Evidence for the effects of group typicality in facilitating generalization from individual encounters to intergroup attitudes has emerged in a variety of contexts (e.g., attitudes toward immigrants: Voci & Hewstone, 2003; attitudes toward older adults: Harwood, Hewstone, Paolini, & Voci, 2005). However, maintaining group typicality while also meeting Allport's conditions for optimal intergroup contact is challenging, both because individuals inevitably learn individuating information during interactions (which renders the encounters more interpersonal), and because group-based information activates negative stereotypes and emotions, encouraging negative rather than positive outcomes (Hewstone, 1996).

Negative emotions, particularly anxiety, are common in intergroup contact (Greenland & Brown, 1999; Stephan & Stephan, 1985), and high anxiety suppresses positive effects of contact (Paolini, Hewstone, Cairns, & Voci, 2004). Anxiety also arises at the mere anticipation of future intergroup interaction, as individuals anticipate negative consequences associated with their behavior during such interactions. Anxious people rely more on stereotypes when making judgments and may even avoid intergroup interaction altogether. Prior levels of intergroup contact affect anxiety, such that individuals with low levels of prior contact are more likely to experience anxiety. Anxiety can be reduced by establishing clear expectations for behavior during intergroup contact (Stephan & Stephan, 1985).

Although the majority of previous research has focused on the experience of direct contact with the outgroup, recent work has begun to examine various types of indirect contact, including knowledge that a friend has positive intergroup relations (Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, & Ropp, 1997), and contact via the media (Schiappa, Gregg, & Hewes, 2005). …

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