Research Explains How Language May Impact Likelihood of Furthering Intergroup Relationships - Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

May 12, 2021by Natalie Davis

Summary of:

Kim, S. & Harwood, J. (2020). Facebook contact: The effect of an outgroup member’s language proficiency on desire for future intergroup contact. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 77, 160-168.

Background & Theory

This article examined how language can impact one’s ability to mesh with outgroup members and the likelihood of further developing the relationship, in this case specifically examining the relationship between international groups. The article touches on how communication can affect intergroup relations due to stereotypes, identification, cultural barriers, etc.

Research Questions

Kim and Harwood, in “Facebook contact: The effect of an outgroup member’s language proficiency on desire for future intergroup contact” (2020), seek to address the following questions:

    1. How does language proficiency influence U.S. students’ desires to further develop a relationship with an international student?
    2. What role does identification with one another play?
    3. Does this interaction potentially impact all future interactions with similar outgroup members?


This study was completed online and included 126 university students from the U.S. (32 men/94 women, 21.4 was the average age, and ethnicities varied, but the majority were white). The authors created a Facebook page to look authentically like a Chinese female student at the same university. The participants were asked to provide their demographic information, and then provided access to the Facebook page. They had two versions of the same page and posts: one that included high English language proficiency, and one that included low English language proficiency, as well as a few other potentially impactful factors (such as posts including white vs. Asian friends). Afterwards, they were asked to rate how well they identified with the student, their desire to connect with this student in the future, their desire to connect generally with similar outgroup members in the future, their thoughts on the student’s language proficiency, and a general attention check to gauge how engaged the participants were when reviewing the page. The data was then evaluated and reviewed statistically.


The results showed that high English language proficiency did overall indicate a higher likelihood to want to connect again in the future with the fictional international student, but there were no effects noted for in-person contact, just online. One of the hypotheses was that identification with the international student may lead to a desire to further interact with her, and it appears that identification may in fact be a possible mediator for the relationship between language proficiency and the desire for future contact (not only online, but also in person). Also, it appears that there is a chance that the desire for future contact with the fictional international student might extend to other similar outgroup members, but this was noted as an indirect effect and could be further evaluated.

What This Means

  • Language can help bridge a gap and bring everyone closer together (a common bond and cultural likeness in sharing the same language at least somewhat fluently).
  • The key to shared language lies really in shared identity. When we more easily relate to or identify with someone, even only in certain ways, it can help desire to interact more and build greater bonds. This may also extend to the outgroup as a whole.
  • This study speaks largely about the need to understand diversity in all its forms, and to be understanding of things like a language barrier. When we can be more adaptable in this way, we can help bridge gaps with outgroups and learn to identify with each other despite the differences we have.
  • This may also imply that how we interpret language, especially online, can play a role in how we view others. Being open to understanding the nuances behind someone’s intentions and language can be helpful in keeping a more open mind and improving relationships.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Language can be quite important in building bonds, but so can understanding another’s perspective, which sometimes is the root of barriers. Seeking to resolve these misunderstandings or one-sided perspectives can be helpful in encouraging those in conflict to see the other side of the issue.

For everyone: Being open minded, especially to those different to us, can lead to many great possibilities. Don’t let a brief interaction close off possible future opportunities!

Natalie Davis

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