Making Friends Across Racial Lines Lowers Prejudice
We are often uneasy around people of other races.
Befriending just one person of a different race lowers anxiety and prejudice and makes it easier to cross racial boundaries in the future.
Social psychologist Elizabeth Page-Gould and her team randomly assigned White and Latino college students to get acquainted with a student of either the same race or a different race (but always of the same gender). The pairs built their friendship over 3 getting-to-know-you sessions, which included tasks like revealing personal information and cooperating in a game of Jenga. Before and after these sessions, researchers recorded how stressed participants were by measuring levels of the hormone cortisol in their saliva.
Participants who were afraid of being rejected because of their race were initially more stressed when interacting with their new cross-group acquaintance. After each meeting, however, their levels of stress dropped until they were the same as someone who had not felt anxious.
Likewise, participants who were initially prejudiced towards their partner’s race were initially stressed when interacting with their new cross-group acquaintance, but over time their stress levels also dropped to those of unprejudiced people. In the weeks after making a friend of a different race, these participants also initiated more interactions with people of other races than did participants who were prejudiced and did not make a new cross-group acquaintance.
Why This Works
People who are prejudiced against different races or fear the prejudice of others often expect cross-race interactions to go badly. Friendly cross-group interactions reduce those worries by demonstrating that relations with people of different races can go well.
When This Works Best
Guided relationship-building works best for people who are somewhat anxious about interacting with people of other races, but not ideologically opposed to making a cross-race friend.
Page-Gould, E., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Tropp, L. R. (2008). With a little help from my cross-group friend: Reducing anxiety in intergroup contexts through cross-group friendship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1080-1094.