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Friendship with people different from you is good for society 2

The Oxford Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict is based in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. Our research focuses on the social-psychological study of intergroup conflict, with a particular focus on intergroup contact. Below are some of the questions we are interested in. Our research covers many parts of the world, and we use experimental, cross sectional and longitudinal data.

Our research group aims to investigate questions such as:

  • When and how does intergroup contact improve relations between groups?
  • Can intergroup contact help groups to forgive each other for past behaviour? Will it work in times of war?
  • When is an encounter with one member of an outgroup enough to change our attitudes towards the whole group?
  • How do positive and negative contact interact with each other? Can positive experiences buffer the effect of negative contact, for example?
  • How does ethnic segregation in schools affect young people's attitudes towards ethnic groups?
  • The Secondary Transfer Effect: Can improved relations with one outgroup (e.g. Muslims) transfer to other outgroups (e.g. homosexuals)?
  • Extended Contact: Why does knowing someone who knows someone from the outgroup reduce prejudice, even when we don’t have direct contact?
  • To what extent are the processes involved in intergroup contact emotional, cognitive and behavioural?
  • What comes first, attitudes or contact? Do only certain kinds of people make contact with outgroups? Will some people NEVER become less prejudiced?
  • Does contact ever INCREASE prejudice?
  • Are changes in attitudes towards outgroups maintained over time?
  • Which is better for intergroup relations, segregated or integrated communities?
  • How does the context of living in a diverse neighbourhood affect our intergroup relations over time?
It has sometimes been held that merely by assembling people without regard for race, colour, religion, or national origin, we can thereby destroy stereotypes and develop friendly attitudes. The case is not so simple - Allport, 1954

Our team

Selected publications

Research Projects

  • Positive and negative asymmetry of intergroup contact: A dynamic approach

    Whilst intergroup contact can be positive (e.g., having outgroup friends) it can also be negative (e.g., being bullied by an ethnic outgroup member). Diverse settings (e.g., schools, neighbourhoods) could potentially have unintended consequences of actually increasing prejudice because they may expose people to greater frequency of both positive and negative contact (which may undermine positive effects of contact). This project asks: What is the net effect on outgroup attitudes of a mix of both positive and negative contact; how and when do such effects arise dyadically, in social networks, and at the context-level; and what possible consequences might result from their interplay? Preliminary correlational evidence indicates that negative contact has stronger effects on attitudes than positive contact does (although positive contact is more common); we refer to this effect as a Positive-Negative Asymmetry of Contact (PNAC) effect. The broad objectives of the research are to explore the independent and combined consequences of positive and negative contact at interpersonal, network, and context levels, integrating both social-psychological and sociological approaches. We focus on dynamic effects to provide insights into the short- and long-term consequences of having both positive and negative contact with diverse outgroup members. We use a mixed-methods approach complementing laboratory experiments with a diary study, longitudinal surveys, and social networks surveys, using sample populations from three different countries. This allows us to exploit the strengths of different approaches in terms of internal and external validity, and to increase the generalizability of our results. We will also evaluate the dynamic interplay of positive and negative contact in a large-scale social intervention aimed at improving intergroup relations. The proposed research has 5 main aims, using various theoretical and methodological perspectives, spanning sociology and social psychology, and encompassing a variety of research designs: 1. To assess the extent to which negative contact effects threaten the efficacy of positive contact to reduce prejudice, across multiple paradigms (experiments, social networks, longitudinal surveys, intervention-evaluation). 2. To investigate dynamic PNAC effects over time. 3. To test whether PNAC effects are mediated by category salience and moderated by intensity, consistency, order of valenced contact, and majority-minority status. 4. To investigate evidence for buffering, augmentation and poisoning effects at interpersonal-, network- and context-levels. 5. To simultaneously examine the interdependent formation and dynamics of positive and negative contact by testing (a) how positive contact influences negative contact and vice versa and (b) how positive and negative contact influence attitudes.


Related research themes