Intergroup contact theory

Annu Rev Psychol. 1998;49:65-85. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.49.1.65.


Allport specified four conditions for optimal intergroup contact: equal group status within the situation, common goals, intergroup cooperation and authority support. Varied research supports the hypothesis, but four problems remain. 1. A selection bias limits cross-sectional studies, since prejudiced people avoid intergroup contact. Yet research finds that the positive effects of cross-group friendship are larger than those of the bias. 2. Writers overburden the hypothesis with facilitating, but not essential, conditions. 3. The hypothesis fails to address process. The chapter proposes four processes: learning about the outgroup, changed behavior, affective ties, and ingroup reappraisal. 4. The hypothesis does not specify how the effects generalize to other situations, the outgroup or uninvolved outgroups. Acting sequentially, three strategies enhance generalization-decategorization, salient categorization, and recategorization. Finally, both individual differences and societal norms shape intergroup contact effects. The chapter outlines a longitudinal intergroup contact theory. It distinguishes between essential and facilitating factors, and emphasizes different outcomes for different stages of contact.