Political Science Interethnic Contact and Impact on Attitudes
Beyza Buyuker, Amanda Jadidi-D'Urso, Alexandra Filindra
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0239


The study of intergroup contact was triggered by anecdotal evidence of members of a dominant group shielding and helping members of minorities from violence in the context of riots, as well as during the Holocaust. These stories indicated that prior positive relationships such as friendships preceded these protective acts on the part of majority-group members. Given this evidence, scholars in psychology sought to explore whether positive intergroup contact could reduce out-group prejudice among members of a majority group. Early studies by Robin Murphy Williams (The Reduction of Intergroup Tensions, 1947) and Goodwin Watson (Action for Unity, 1947), among others, were systematized and conceptually organized in Gordon Allport’s seminal The Nature of Prejudice (Allport 1954, cited under General Overviews). In this enduring work, Allport set forth the “contact hypothesis” and identified likely preconditions for the emergence of the expected positive effects of intergroup interactions. According to Allport, intergroup contact can reduce or eliminate prejudice and discrimination against minorities by leading to the rejection of stereotypical views of out-groups. In this view, ongoing and positive interactions with members of out-groups lead to more tolerance in attitudes and behavior because contact encourages empathy and positive affect toward minorities. However, Allport cautioned that not just any interaction would produce a contact effect—the interactions had to be meaningful and positive. Simple exposure to members of out-groups was not sufficient to produce empathy and induce tolerance. Furthermore, the positive effects of intergroup contact might not materialize in the context of major power differences between groups, intergroup competition, or a lack of common goals—or if tolerance was not sanctioned by trusted elites among the majority group. In time, Ulrich Wagner, Miles Hewstone, and Uwe Machleit’s article “Contact and Prejudice between Germans and Turks” (1989) added voluntary contact, a common language, and a prosperous economy; while Rachel Ben-Ari and Yehuda Amir’s “Contact between Arab and Jewish Youth in Israel” (1986) added prior views of intergroup members not being strongly negative to the conditions of contact. Since the publication of Allport’s book, an extensive scholarship has developed testing the contact hypothesis observationally and experimentally, identifying its limitations, and specifying the mechanisms through which it works and the conditions under which it may be more likely for contact effects to emerge. Much of this research was conducted by Thomas Pettigrew, one of Allport’s students. Not only did Pettigrew elaborate and refine the contact paradigm, he has also produced a series of meta-analyses that summarize our understanding of contact and its direct, indirect, and secondary effects, as well as the impact of both positive and negative contact on intergroup prejudice. In recent years, sociologists and political scientists have also explored the effects of intergroup contact on attitudes toward minorities and policy preferences.

General Overviews

Since the publication of Allport 1954, many researchers have found that increased contact with out-group members reduces prejudice toward that out-group. Much of the research on contact was conducted by Thomas Pettigrew and his various collaborators. Pettigrew 1986 and Pettigrew 1998 put forth a theory of necessary and facilitative conditions for the emergence of positive contact effects. In this view, potential for friendship is a necessary precondition for contact to produce tolerance. Friendships lead to in-group and out-group reappraisals, new affective ties, learning about the out-group, and change in behavior toward members of out-groups. In his later research with Linda Tropp (Pettigrew and Tropp 2006) and other collaborators (Pettigrew, et al. 2011, cited under Meta-analyses and Literature Reviews), Pettigrew provided evidence that Allport’s preconditions were facilitative but not necessary for contact-induced tolerance to emerge. Even in the absence of these conditions, intergroup contact still yields a reduction in prejudice, albeit not as large. Many researchers have confirmed this finding: increased contact with out-group members reduces prejudice. Sigelman and Welch 1993 shows that intergroup contact between whites and blacks is associated with more positive racial attitudes; this finding was particularly strong for whites. In a longitudinal study, Sidanius, et al. 2008 found that having interracial roommates in college was also associated with a significant reduction in racial prejudice. Moreover, Schafer 1997 provided nuance; although intergroup contact changed the negative image of an out-group, it did not change policy preferences. Forbes 1997 determined that while individual-level relations could be positive, contact may not have the same effect on group-level relations. The effects of contact are not limited to racial/ethnic groups alone. Broockman and Kalla 2016 found that having conversations with both transgender and non-transgender individuals about transgender peoples’ experiences reduces transphobia. Tadlock, et al. 2017 furthered this line of research by extending the positive results to include support for transgender rights. Binder, et al. 2009 challenged the causal direction. More recent research has also argued that the opposite causal relationship may also be true. For instance, Binder, et al. 2009 found that preexisting prejudice reduces the likelihood of intergroup contact. The list below includes works that provide evidence of the positive effects of contact as well as meta-analyses of research on contact theory. Most recently, Pettigrew and Hewstone 2017 urged researchers to not only look at either positive or negative contact separately, but at the same time as well.

  • Allport, Gordon W. The Nature of Prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 1954.

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    A seminal work that sets up the contact hypothesis and proposes the conditions of intergroup contact to reduce prejudice.

  • Binder, Jens, Hanna Zagefka, Rupert Brown, et al. “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 96.4 (2009): 843–856.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0013470Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Research based on longitudinal panel data that shows the nonrecursive nature of the relationship between intergroup contact and prejudice.

  • Broockman, David, and Joshua Kalla. “Durably Reducing Transphobia: A Field Experiment on Door-to-Door Canvassing.” Science 352.6282 (2016): 220–224.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9713Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Using a field experiment, this study examines positive effects of contact on reducing transphobia.

  • Brown, R., and M. Hewstone. “An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Contact.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 37 (2005): 255–343.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0065-2601(05)37005-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A comprehensive review of several moderating and mediating factors on the effects of intergroup contact.

  • Eller, Anja, and Dominic Abrams. “Come Together: Longitudinal Comparisons of Pettigrew’s Reformulated Intergroup Contact Model and the Common Ingroup Identity Model in Anglo-French and Mexican-American Contexts.” European Journal of Social Psychology 34.3 (2004): 229–256.

    DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.194Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This study is an extension of Pettigrew’s model using panel data. The findings suggest that cognitive and affective factors mediate the relationship between intergroup friendship and tolerance.

  • Forbes, H. D. Ethnic Conflict: Commerce, Culture, and the Contact Hypothesis. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

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    Forbes examines critically each necessary condition of the contact theory and argues the positive effects of contact are mainly contextual. He differentiates between individual-level and group-level analysis of contact and answers the question of why contact could improve individual relations but exacerbate group relations.

  • Pettigrew, Thomas F. “The Intergroup Contact Hypothesis Reconsidered.” In Contact and Conflict in Intergroup Encounters. Edited by Miles Hewstone and Rupert Brown, 169–195. Social Psychology and Society. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1986.

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    This study reviews the origins and macro contexts of the contact hypothesis and moves toward an extended generic theory of intergroup contact.

  • Pettigrew, Thomas F. “Intergroup Contact Theory.” Annual Review of Psychology 49.1 (1998): 65–85.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.49.1.65Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is an extensive review of the literature on intergroup contact.

  • Pettigrew, Thomas F., and Miles Hewstone. “The Single Factor Fallacy: Implications of Missing Critical Variables from an Analysis of Intergroup Contact Theory.” Social Issues and Policy Review 11.1 (2017): 8–37.

    DOI: 10.1111/sipr.12026Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This article advises researchers to take into account joint effects of contact in their analyses and not to fall in the single factor fallacy.

  • Pettigrew, Thomas F., and Linda R. Tropp. “A Meta-Analytic Test of Intergroup Contact Theory.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 90.5 (2006): 751–783.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.90.5.751Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Through an extensive meta-analysis, the authors establish the significant effect of intergroup contact to lessen prejudice under broader conditions.

  • Schafer, Mark. “Cooperation in an Objective Conflict of Interest? Testing Two Psychological Approaches.” Journal of Politics 59.3 (1997): 729–750.

    DOI: 10.2307/2998635Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This study investigates the effects of intergroup contact and individual-difference variables on cooperative policy preferences. Findings show intergroup contact has a positive effect on changing the images of the out-group but has no effect on policy preferences.

  • Sidanius Jim, Shana Levin, Colette van Laar, David O. Sears. The Diversity Challenge: Social Identity and Intergroup Relations on the College Campus. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008.

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    The authors conducted longitudinal research on the effects of having an interracial roommate on racial prejudice during college. The study shows exposure to ethnically diverse college environments and prejudice are negatively correlated.

  • Sigelman, Lee, and Susan Welch. “The Contact Hypothesis Revisited: Black-White Interaction and Positive Racial Attitudes.” Social Forces 71.3 (1993): 781–795.

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    This article presents evidence that intergroup contact between blacks and whites is correlated with more positive racial attitudes, particularly among whites.

  • Tadlock, Barry L., Andrew R. Flores, Donald P. Haider-Markel, Daniel C. Lewis, Patrick R. Miller, and Jami K. Taylor. “Testing Contact Theory and Attitudes on Transgender Rights.” Public Opinion Quarterly (12 August 2017).

    DOI: 10.1093/poq/nfx021Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This study examines the effect of contact with transgender individuals on attitudes toward transgender people and their rights.

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