People from different social groups tend to fear and mistrust one another.
Teaming up as equals and collaborating towards a common goal reduces prejudice between people with different backgrounds.
Intergroup contact theory is the idea that just being around people from different races, ethnicities, religions, and other cultural backgrounds reduces prejudice. The pioneering social psychologist Gordon Allport hypothesized that intergroup contact lessens bias when it happens under four conditions:
The groups have equal status in the situation.
The groups share a common goal.
The groups are cooperating, rather than competing.
Laws, customs, or people in authority support the interaction between the groups.
To subject intergroup contact theory to a very strong test, social psychologists Thomas Pettigrew and Linda Tropp first gathered 515 studies that had previously examined how exposure to different groups affects prejudice. The researchers then combined these studies into one large statistical test known as a meta-analysis, which allowed them to harness the strength of many smaller studies into one large one. Their meta-analysis included studies from six continents, conducted as early as 1940 and as recently as 2000, and that used methods that included laboratory experiments, surveys, and field studies.
Pettigrew and Tropp found that merely spending time together indeed improves groups' attitudes towards one another. Even more surprising, they discovered that the good feelings that arise from intergroup contact extend to other groups as well. For instance, if you are a White person who has been spending time with a Black person, you are likely to have better feelings about gay people and Middle Easterners as a result.
Why This Works
People often fear what they do not know. By spending time with others from different social groups, people lose their fear. As fear lessens, attitudes improve.
When This Works Best
Although Allport's four criteria are not necessary for intergroup contact to reduce bias, they do enhance its effects.