White, S.M., Schroeder, J., & Risen, J.L. (2020). When “enemies” become close: Relationship formation among Palestinians and Jewish Israelis at a youth camp. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1-84.
Background & Theory
Previous research has tried to investigate the role of contact and proximity in bridging outgroup relations. Conceptualized by Allport (1954), intergroup contact theory states that under the right conditions, having contact with outgroup members leads people to reduce their prejudice toward them. This study is one such attempt at observing the intergroup contact between Jewish and Muslim students in a conflict transformation program – Seeds of Peace.
The authors tried to answer the following questions:
- How might similarity and propinquity interact to influence relationship formation?
- Does propinquity facilitate ingroup and outgroup relationships roughly equally? (null hypothesis)
- Does propinquity mitigate homophily, facilitating outgroup relationships that wouldn’t otherwise form? (mitigation hypothesis)
The authors collected seven years of data from Jewish Israeli and Palestinian teenagers attending a three-week summer camp at Seeds of Peace. They surveyed 515 Palestinian and Jewish Israeli participants from 2011 to 2017, out of whom 53% were female.
Since the researchers were testing for 2 independent variables- similarity and propinquity, they considered multiple types of propinquity via three different activity groups at camp: dialogue groups, table groups, and bunks. They then looked at the effect of each group separately.
Participant pre-camp measures. On the first day of camp, all participants completed a survey that collected demographic information and a number of attitudinal measures on 7-point Likert scales.
Participant post-camp relationships. On the last day of camp, participants completed a second survey in which they listed up to five or ten other participants from camp to whom they felt the “most close.”
The authors found that propinquity was significantly more impactful for reinforcing out-group relationships. While two in-group students were 4.46 times more likely to become close if they were in the same versus different bunk, two out-group participants were 11.72 times more likely to become close.
They concluded that sharing an activity group is especially powerful for more dissimilar pairs because those people are less likely to spontaneously engage with out-group members in ways that promote relationships. Hence, they reiterated that structured, meaningful engagement can counteract homophily.
The authors also stated that certain types of interaction are more effective in facilitating intergroup relationships, such as sharing a dialogue or bunk group are more meaningful activities in this regard than sharing a table group.
How This Translates for the Workplace
A workplace already offers propinquity for in-group and out-group members, since it often hires skilled talent who could belong to any city or culture. However, the workplace should also take it upon itself to overlook how interactions in this diverse environment play out between the two.
- Improve propinquity further by design: The study demonstrated how students were still likely to interact with their in-group in terms of nationality and call more of them their close friends. In a workplace setting, it is natural as well for employees to bond more with those from the same country, city, college, etc. It is hence the responsibility of the management to nudge employees to connect more to those with whom they don’t have existing roots and ties. Structured and meaningful engagement must be organized routinely to counteract hemophily. Researchers had strategically worked on pairing members of the outgroup together with the in-group by putting them in the same activity groups or bunks. Workplaces too should create opportunities for interaction between different employees through intentional pairing up for team projects.
- Keep a watch on clique formation and attitudes of in-group members: The management must ensure that members of the in-group do not organize themselves in cliques and exclude out-group members from those. Regular checks for bullying, discrimination, and harassment create a safe space that can over time help members of the outgroup to trust and confide in the management or HR, in case they feel actively excluded. Bigger workplaces can also go as far as recognizing who the ingroup and outgroup is, interview some members to understand their experiences and plan activities that encourage interaction between the two.
- Invest in diversity and conflict resolution training: In order to work on employee attitudes towards the outgroup, diversity and conflict resolution trainings are a must. Sessions hosted by expert trainers and facilitators are safe spaces that can nudge employees to share their existing attitudes and help them adopt newer ones. At Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, we offer training for workplaces in conflict resolution as well as diversity and inclusion. Contact us to know more.