Intergroup Contact Theory
According to some social scientists, intergroup contact theory is among the best ways of improving relations among conflicting groups. Development of the intergroup contract theory is accredited to Gordon W. Allport. The theory is also known as the contact hypothesis. According to this theory, interpersonal contact is among the most effective means of reducing prejudice between the minority and majority members when conditions are appropriate.
When an individual has an opportunity for communicating with others, understanding and appreciating their point of view on their ways of life is enhanced. Prejudice is diminished due to the new understanding and appreciation of the other persons. Among the issues that occur more often among rival groups include discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping. According to Gordon, all these issues can be reduced through well-managed contact leading to better interaction between individuals.
However, when anxiety is created by contact among those involved, it fails to resolve conflict. To decrease anxiety, contact situations should be long so that members of conflicting groups can feel comfortable in the company of one another. In addition, contact will not reduce conflict if the members of conflicting groups use the contact to exchange insults and argue with one another. This will cause discrimination and even physical violence between the members.
Positive contact must be ensured to realize beneficial effects. Several criteria should be used and they include the following:
- Common goals must be set which should entail solving the problem between them.
- Equal status must be established by minimizing differences among members of the two groups
- Intergroup cooperation must also be established by both sides working together to realize common goals
- Support from the customs, law and authorities are also important in encouraging helpful, friendly and egalitarian attitudes between the groups. In-group-out-group comparison should also be condemned.
- Personal interaction should also be encouraged between groups’ members to develop cross-group friendships.
In explaining the intergroup contact theory, Gordon says that prejudice is directly caused by oversimplifications and generalizations that are made about entire groups of people on the basis of mistaken or incomplete information. Basically, prejudice can be reduced by learning more about a group of people.
Some experts have described a change in belief via contact as one example of a general cognitive process that can be used to modify attributes of a group. Contact with culturally distinct group members can modify beliefs of individual, subsequently elaborating or modifying beliefs about the group as a whole.
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