Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination

By Stuart Oskamp | Go to book overview

5
Does Intergroup Contact Reduce Prejudice? Recent Meta-Analytic Findings

Thomas F. Pettigrew1
Linda R. Tropp
University of California, Santa Cruz

Social psychology has long held that one major means of reducing intergroup prejudice is through contact between the groups under optimal conditions. Explicit attention to this phenomenon was triggered after World War II by an organized effort in North America to end prejudice. Called the Human Relations Movement, it sought to correct negative stereotypes, and it took organizational form with such still-active groups as the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

The movement's controlling idea was that prejudice derived largely from ignorance. If only we could know each other better across group lines, went the reasoning, we would discover the common humanity we share. The movement, as Drake and Cayton ( 1945; 1962, p. 281) noted at the time, projected an "almost mystical faith in 'getting to know one another' as a solvent of racial tensions...."

To be sure, ignorance is a factor in intergroup relations ( Stephan & Stephan, 1984), but it offers an incomplete explanation. The movement did not understand the many cognitive, affective, situational and institutional barriers to positive contact effects. Yet this effort furnished the context for social scientists to begin systematically studying intergroup contact effects.

Robin Williams ( 1947), followed by Gordon Allport ( 1954), formalized the contact hypothesis, and it has enjoyed a central place in social psychological work on intergroup relations ever since. While sharing problems found in social psychological theory generally ( Pettigrew, 1986), Allport's version of the hypothesis has received considerable research attention and support.

However, unlike the naive optimism of the Human Relations Movement, Allport's contentions were conditioned by the characteristics of the contact situa-

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