Research Explains Critical Role of Cultural and Sociopolitical Contexts within Intergroup Contact and Positive Attitudes

Summary of:

Pertiwi, Y.G., Geers, A.L., Lee, Y.-T. (2020). Rethinking intergroup contact across cultures: Predicting outgroup evaluations using different types of contact, group status, and perceived sociopolitical contexts. Journal of Pacific Rim Psychology, 14(16), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1017/ prp.2020.9

Background & Theory

This article explores a little-evaluated topic related to intergroup contact, which is how intergroup contact might be affected based on different cultures and the unique factors of those cultures, such as sociopolitical influence. 

Research Questions

The authors seek to answer the following questions:

  1. Does culture and sociopolitical influence play a role in how meaningful and positive intergroup contact is, as shown through outgroup evaluations?
  2. Do other kinds of intergroup contact, such as online contact or extended contact, differ from the impact direct contact has on outgroup evaluations?

Methods

The authors conducted two studies, though both were similar in that they evaluated specifically a majority and minority group, the intergroup contact between them via a questionnaire (which aside from appropriate context for the groups involved, this was the same for both studies), and had the participants rate their attitudes according to an outgroup feeling thermometer. Both groups had to answer questions related to outgroup evaluation, direct contact, extended contact, online contact, perceived outgroup political power, perceived outgroup economic power, perceived government support, and perceived quality of the current intergroup relations. Both studies’ questionnaires took roughly 20 minutes for participants.

Study 1

The country studied was the United States, and there were a total of 166 participants, though only 119 participants fit the criteria and were included in the data. The participants included 75 European Americans (majority)/44 Chinese Americans (minority). They were required to either be a U.S. citizen or have lived in the U.S. for a minimum of 5 years, their ages varied, they were 58% male/42% female, and they all had varying education levels. Participants were recruited through a survey via Amazon Mechanical Turk and received a monetary award.

Study 2:

The country studied was Indonesia, and there were a total of 133 participants. These included 61 Javanese (majority) and 72 Chinese Indonesians (minority). The average age was 10 years younger than for study 1 (age = 25.13), they were 46% male/54% female, and all had varying education completion. Some participants were asked to participate as they were seen on their university campus, and some were asked to participate off campus. All participants were given a small gift for their willingness to participate.

Results

The results showed some differences and some similarities between the two studies. 

Study 1:

Outgroup evaluations were impacted by direct contact, but only for minorities; the majority studied generally had positive outgroup evaluations of minorities, whether there was low or high direct contact. Generally speaking, the kinds of intergroup contact did not play a huge role in outgroup evaluations; the only exception is in regards to the minority outgroup evaluation of the majority, which showed higher results when there was extended contact and what they felt was a lower level of government support. This first study infers that there is a relationship between sociopolitical factors/group status and intergroup contact/outgroup evaluations.

Study 2:

Direct contact appears to make a rather important difference in regards to outgroup evaluations, but it is important to recognize that there are sociopolitical factors at play here. While extended contact played a larger role in the U.S., online contact played a bigger role in Indonesia; overall, this was true regardless of anything else, but there is still a correlation here, as well, with sociopolitical influence. 

Overall, the two studies show what the authors desired in part to evaluate, which is that sociopolitical factors and cultural context play a very critical role in intergroup contact and outgroup evaluations. While not incredibly significant, there is also a relationship between kinds of intergroup contact and their impact on outgroup evaluations. There were some limitations, and inferences that should promote further study in these areas.

What This Means

  • Understanding cultural and sociopolitical (and likely also other demographic information) is very helpful, if not critical, to resolving conflict.
  • What might be helpful in one area, may not be in another area. 
  • Intergroup contact is important to help improve relationships between groups, but having an understanding of what kind of intergroup contact to use may create a much more positive impact.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Especially when working to resolve group conflict, do some research to understand the delicate nuances for the area and these groups; it may be the key to resolving the conflict quickly and efficiently.

For everyone: Seek to understand those around you and your own culture well; we can all learn from diversity, and we can also resolve and avoid conflict better with these understandings.