Lowe, M. (2020). Types of Contact: A Field Experiment on Collaborative and Adversarial Caste Integration. Behavioral & Experimental Economics eJournal.
Background & Theory
Intergroup contact theory or the contact hypothesis is a well-known method of improving ties between communities. In this research, the author argues that the efficacy of intergroup contact depends highly on the type of contact: whether the groups have common goals, a lack of intergroup competition, equal status, and the support of authorities (Allport (1954). The author conducted a field experiment in rural India to study the impact of two types of intergroup contact: collaborative, where groups share common goals, and adversarial, where they instead actively compete. He takes the help of cricket, the most popular sport in India, to initiate contact and common goals between young men from different castes.
The author answered the following question:
Do divergent effects of collaborative and adversarial contact derive from the fact that collaborative contact involves common goals between groups, whereas with adversarial contact goals are opposing?
The author randomly assigned Indian men from different castes to participate in cricket leagues or to serve as a control group. League players were assigned randomly to homogeneous-caste or mixed-caste teams, while adversarial contact through random assignment of opponents. He selected a sample of 1,261 men and randomized 800 to play in eight-month-long cricket leagues. The others were assigned to a control group. Of those assigned to play, he assigned 35% to homogeneous-caste teams, and the others to mixed-caste teams.
He then measured intergroup behavioral outcomes three weeks after each league ended. His first set of findings considered players’ willingness to interact. His second set of findings looked at the effects on own-caste favoritism in an incentivized voting exercise. The third set of findings explored the efficiency effects of contact.
The author concluded that collaborative contact increases cross-caste friendships and efficiency in trade, and reduces own-caste favoritism. In contrast, adversarial contact generally reduces cross-caste interaction and efficiency. Those assigned to mixed teams make more other-caste friends than those in control, choose more other-caste teammates and engage in more cross-caste trade. Collaborative contact increased cross-caste trade by up to 21% and trade payouts by 18%, as measured in a trading exercise where there were gains from cross-caste trade.
He reiterated that Allport (1954) was correct in arguing that common goals are necessary for intergroup contact to be effective.
How This Translates for the Workplace
- Design teams and Hire carefully: Focus on diversity and inclusion measures while hiring so that your teams are rich with inter-caste, class, race, gender, etc. contact. This will ensure they are not homogenous and there is ample learning happening between them. Extending to a department, further ensure that teams are not homogenous amongst themselves and have people from different backgrounds and that people from different backgrounds don’t organize themselves in opposing teams, for that will defeat the purpose of inter-group contact. Further, if there is tension sensed between any two teams or departments, it may be useful to re-shuffle them into more nuanced teams where they are forced to have contact and work towards a common goal together.
- Find ways to reduce intergroup competition: Lowe, the researcher warned his readers- “Organizations may face tension……for contact to work, groups should not only have common goals, but they also should not face intergroup competition between them”. This requires a close look at organizational culture and ensuring that employees or teams are not facing too much competition amongst themselves while working for the common goal- company growth and excellence. Therefore, if employees or teams are competing too much amongst each other, they will not be able to overcome their interpersonal or inter-group differences effectively to work for organizational success. We at PPS offer training for workplaces in diversity, inclusion, organizational culture transformation, as well as services in conflict resolution. Contact us to improve inter-group contact between your employees and make your workplace more inclusive!