Research Shows Intergroup Contact in Universities has Positive Results; Can Improve Society as a Whole

Summary of:

Gross, Z., & Maor, R. (2020). Is contact theory still valid in acute asymmetrical violent conflict? A case study of Israeli Jewish and Arab students in higher education. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/pac0000440

Background & Theory

This article discusses contact theory and whether it is effective in the context of intergroup conflict. Additionally, there is a specific notation of the potential impact of increased contact within higher education and the results this might have on society as a whole.

Research Questions

The authors evaluate the following questions:

  1. Does frequent and quality intergroup contact in a university between Jewish and Arabic students result in less prejudice/stereotypes and overall improved relations (thus making a case for contact theory)?
  2. Is there a difference shown when there are larger representatives from both groups as opposed to one being heavily outweighed by the other?

Methods

The authors reached out to willing participants at two universities in Israel, one that had 20% Arabic enrollment (Blue University) and one that had only 1.9% Arabic enrollment (Orange University). They asked 100 people at each university to respond to a questionnaire; these participants were 100 Arabic and 100 Jewish students, made up of 68% women overall, with an average age of 26.47, the majority born in Israel, and studying varied topics in both undergraduate and graduate programs. The questionnaires focused on both quantity and quality of contact amongst the outgroup, asking specific questions relating to prejudice, stereotypical beliefs, social distance, and social relations between Arabic and Jewish students. 

Results

The results were evaluated using 2 two-way multivariate analyses of variance (MANCOVAs). One one was focused on an attitudes index (prejudice/stereotypical beliefs) and one was focused on a relations index (social relations/distance). The results showed that there was greater prejudice and stereotypical beliefs held by Orange University students than Blue University students. Additionally, there were was less social distance and more social relations at Blue University than Orange University. It was found that there were actually more negative stereotypes that Arabic students held against Jewish students at Blue University, and on the opposite end at Orange University (more negative stereotypes held by Jewish students against Arabic students). Overall, the results showed a more positive attitude and views of the outgroup from both Jewish and Arabic students at Blue University opposed to Orange University.

What This Means

  • The numbers between outgroups may have some impact on contact theory’s individual components, but in the majority of situations, contact theory genuinely does appear to be valid and is a positive way to promote peace in intergroup relations.
  • This positive result ultimately stems from the ability to find commonalities amongst ourselves and perhaps even learn to understand unique perspectives from our own.
  • There needs to not only be two groups in close space to one another for contact theory to work, but also genuine opportunities for interaction between groups.
  • Higher education is a wonderful place to encourage two groups to interact with each other, with the hope and possibility that this more accepted-view of another group (and individuals belonging to that group) will be implemented in their workplaces, families, and more.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: When dealing with intergroup or community conflict, it may be helpful to utilize contact theory, and find ways for the groups to find common ground, and perhaps learn to understand the perspective from the other group. Genuine interaction may result in very positive outcomes.

For everyone: Always take hold of opportunities to participate in activities with groups of people different from your own identity. It can be a great learning opportunity. Learning to understand new perspectives can always help resolve conflict, too.