Foundations of Intergroup Contact Research: Allport’s “The Nature of Prejudice”

June 24, 2021by Natalie Davis0

Summary of:

Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Addison-Wesley. 

Background & Theory

Gordon Allport’s book, The Nature of Prejudice, became a well-known foundation for the study of prejudice and discrimination, as well as intergroup contact theory. The book is compiled of 31 chapters and discusses in detail what factors might influence prejudice, how prejudice can become discrimination, and how people may come to think and act the ways they do regarding outgroup members. A major component of this book was regarding group interactions and how prejudice might impact them, as well as how group interactions can affect prejudice.

Key Takeaways

The main points from Allport’s book are that prejudice can be caused by many varying factors, and prejudice is common in all of us in one way or another. He determined that it can be quite difficult to reduce prejudice and held a negative viewpoint on the likelihood we would see any improvement in this area in the U.S.A. Additionally, he felt that prejudice was a main cause for discrimination, and that any actions taken on behalf of prejudice, even as simple as speaking negatively about the outgroup in question, were more likely to lead toward violent acts.

He also determined four key conditions for positive intergroup contact:

  1. Equal Status
  2. Common Goals
  3. Intergroup Cooperation
  4. Support of Authorities, Law, or Customs

These are rather self-explanatory, but imply that for improved positive contact amongst members of different groups, they should be of relatively the same social status, have a common goal to attain together, cooperate toward said goal, and together recognize a singular authority that can help oversee/encourage intergroup relations. He also reported that genuine interactions would be more helpful in reducing prejudice and building positive relationships than simple, brief interactions (i.e., having time to truly get to know someone of the outgroup, perhaps such as working together on a school project, opposed to a brief interaction such as the cashier in a store while checking out). 

All in all, The Nature of Prejudice provided a foundation for the study of prejudice and discrimination and intergroup contact theory that remains studied and evaluated today. While not all of the points of this book have been reaffirmed through further research, much of what was written has been accepted as true (at least in part) and has led us researchers over the years to uncover more truths and understanding about intergroup contact, prejudice, and how to build peace amongst each other.

For those interested in further understanding what research has since shown us regarding intergroup contact theory, researcher Thomas Fraser Pettigrew conducted a meta-analytic test in this area in 2006, which can be found here.

 

Supporting References:

Contact hypothesis. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 23, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contact_hypothesis

Katz, I. (1991). Gordon Allport’s “The nature of prejudice. International Society of Political Psychology, 12(1), 125-157. https://doi.org/10.2307/3791349

The nature of prejudice. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 23, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nature_of_Prejudice.

Natalie Davis

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