Poslon, X. D., & Lášticová, B. (2019). The silver lining between perceived similarity and intergroup differences: Increasing confidence in intergroup contact. Human affairs: Postdisciplinary humanities & social sciences quarterly, 29(1), 63-73. DOI:10.1515/humaff-2019-0006.
Background & Theory
The article explores the value of cross-group friendships and the role that similarity plays to the ingroup when building these relationships. Increasing the likelihood of meaningful cross-group friendships means that there is a high chance to also reduce prejudice among those involved. This may be one of the ways our nation can make an active choice to begin eliminating negative thought behaviors among children, which can hopefully contribute to a more positive society.
The authors seek to address the following questions:
- Does perceived similarity between two groups in contact always indicate a positive relationship will form?
- What does this mean for prejudice reduction research and implementations in diverse schools?
The authors conducted their research through a meta-analysis on current literature and research in the areas of prejudice reduction, intergroup contact, and perceived similarities. The authors began by evaluating the background of this research, including an explanation of social identity theory and optimal distinctiveness theory. Further evaluation and review of research studies related to these topics was done, including regarding the common ingroup identity model (CIIM) and the mutual intergroup differentiation model (MIDM), which gave us insight into how identity and similarity greatly impact intergroup relations.
The results show that children are fully capable of developing cross-group friendships, which can give them the ability to see past prejudice and instead form positive narratives of the outgroup. However, each situation must be considered case-by-case — in some contexts, encouraging students who are regularly in contact to see the similarities they share with the outgroup can be very beneficial and do as researchers would hope, but in other cases, the similarities noted actually became a threat to the identity of the ingroup, and thus did the very opposite of what was intended.
The research further showed that it is absolutely possible to encourage students to see both the similarities and different-but-equally-valuable qualities of the outgroups, which can create the desired effect of eliminating or reducing prejudice. When any kind of interventions or programs are introduced in schools, they need to be evaluated for that specific school and the groups that are there, though it can be done correctly and yield positive results. Further research is suggested to evaluate these areas more deeply.
What This Means
- Perceived similarity is definitely a major contributing factor to creating meaningful cross-group relationships, but there are numerous factors that must be considered carefully when implementing any kind of prejudice reduction interventions, and these vary for every situation.
- Simply put, contact with other groups is not enough on its own to encourage positive relationships to form, but there are ways to increase this likelihood.
- Ensuring that students can find similarities to relate to, while also understanding the uniqueness of each group and their own values, is crucial to building true friendships and inclusion.
- When done correctly, interventions in diverse schools are very likely to encourage children of different backgrounds to move beyond their differences and create lasting friendships. This may be one of the ways our nation can move forward past prejudice, and we can take intentional actions to teach children to value each other regardless of group identity.
For consultants: Particularly for group conflict, there are important lessons learned here. There is no easy solution for every kind of conflict, but encouraging each group to seek to understand the perspectives of the other groups and validate their feelings is a great step toward eliminating the barriers that may make resolving the conflict difficult. However, it goes without saying that how to do this and when this is applicable will greatly depend on the situation. Use your discernment and best practices to encourage empathy and understanding of one another amongst the groups.
For everyone: Challenge yourself to see beyond your own feelings and self, both in life in general and in times of conflict. There is always something to learn. You likely have at least some similarities to anyone you come into contact with; understand what those are, and also learn to see your differences as strengths instead of areas you can’t connect. This can help you resolve your conflict and expand your world in a positive way.