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Lee Jussim @PsychRabble
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The Contact Hypothesis is a Mess: Thread
The Contact Hypothesis (hence, "CH") is an old idea in social psych: That contact between groups reduces prejudice. This was one central theme of Allport's 1954 classic The Nature of Prejudice, built on even earlier ideas.
Beneficial effects of contact have always been difficult to obtain, requiring an ever-growing list of conditions supposedly necessary or at least beneficial to get it to work (equal status, cooperation, common goals, supports from authorities, and more).
This recent award-receiving meta-analysis by Pettigrew & Tropp (2006) gave the answer so many social psychologists had been (I suspect) rooting** for. Slam dunk, contact works!
** nearly 6k citations
** supports left view/values (eg, immigration? let em all in, contact works!).
Except ... there was always reason to doubt this. In the real world, Putnam showed at about the same time, in both work groups and communities, diversity lowered cohesion & social trust, and led to high turnover and lower public investiment.…
A 2014 updating by van der Meer & Tolsma (ht @Chrismartin76 ) found basically the same thing, especially in the U.S.…
WTF is going on? No one really knows, but enter @betsylevyp and her team, with this amazing 2018 paper:
They conducted their own meta-analysis, starting w/ALL the studies in Pettigrew&Tropp's. But to be included, they required studies to meet all of the following criteria:
1. They had to randomly assign people to contact. I.e., they only included true experiments, which is the clearest way to eliminate correlation&causality inference problems.
2. They had to measure intergroup outcomes more than one day after the treatment. That is, there had to be at least some evidence that the effect was not completely fleeting and ephemeral.
3. The studies had to have actual face-to-face contact.
4. There had to be a no contact control group.
P&G had 713 samples from 515 papers.
By the time Paluck et al's (some might argue, "minimalist") standards were met, there were 8 papers reporting 9 studies.
They then scoured the lit for studies meeting their standards post 2006. They found a bunch, bringing the total up to 27 studies (still a far far far far cry from the 713 of P&G).
Here are their main findings, reported in Figure 1 of p. 18 of their paper. Its hard to make out, but you have the link to the actual paper.
Several patterns are notable:
1. The effects hover near 0.
2. The one exception is for contact w/ppl w/disabilities. Remove that, and the results are still above 0 (ie, *some* effect of conctact), BUT:
3. Fig 1 plots the effect size against the std errors (SEs). Smaller Ns produce larger SEs, and Fig 1 shows larger effects w/larger SEs (smaller samples). This is classic evid. of publication bias.
Note also the sloping line. It means the larger the sample, the smaller the effect. In fact, when they used SE to predict effect, the intercept was negative, meaning that the *predicted* effect of large samples (low SEs) is to (slightly) *increase* prejudice, not reduce it.
4. Interestingly, the effects for the groups social psychologists seem to be generally most concerned about -- groups oppressed based on race, religion, sexual orientation -- the effects hover barely above 0, especially for larger studies.
Bottom lines? We know a lot less about contact than Pettigrew & Tropp's meta-analysis has led us to believe. There may be a there there, but if there is, that there is a helluva lot less and more equivocal than the there that is cracked up to be there.
Contact almost surely can be either harmful or beneficial with respect to intergroup hostility. But, just as surely, the benefits of contact have been wildly oversold to an overeager social psychology consuming audience. End.
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