Over 60 years of research has established that positive contact between members of opposing social groups is one of the most important factors in improving relations. Despite this large body of research on positive contact, the importance of negative contact has been largely overlooked. In particular, the processes that mediate the relationship between negative contact and intergroup antipathy remain largely understudied. Furthermore, contact scholars have primarily focused on the effects of contact on prejudice. Thus, it is still unclear whether positive contact and negative contact are predictors of intergroup outcomes beyond prejudice. Contact studies have also primarily been conducted in Western nations, leading to an uncertainty about the degree to which the effects of positive and negative contact are culturally specific or universal. In addition, while substantial evidence has indicated that positive contact with sexual minorities predicts reduced sexual prejudice among heterosexuals, little attention has been paid to the importance of gender of contact partners.
The current program of research aims to fill these four gaps in the contact literature. Studies 1-3 examine positive and negative contact as predictors of prejudice and intergroup outcomes beyond prejudice (i.e., negative metaperceptions), and the underlying psychological process that mediates the relationship between negative contact and intergroup attitudes. The studies also test the generalizability of positive and negative contact effects, drawing on data from White Americans (Study 1, N = 207), Hong Kong Chinese (Study 2, N = 145), and Buddhist Thais (Study 3, N = 161). Results were similar across all three nations. More specifically, when negative contact was not taken into account results indicated that positive contact reliably predicted lower levels of old-fashioned and modern prejudice toward, and negative metaperceptions about, Black Americans (Study 1), Mainland Chinese (Study 2), and Muslim Thais (Study 3). When negative contact was controlled for, however, positive contact became a less reliable predictor of intergroup outcomes. Furthermore, negative contact appeared to be a more consistent predictor of these intergroup outcomes than positive contact. Finally, intergroup anxiety acted as a mediator of both positive contact and negative contact effects.
Study 4 extends the previous studies by testing whether positive and negative contact with sexual minorities predict collective action for equal rights among heterosexual Australians (N = 294). This study also explores whether the relationships between both types of contact and collective action intentions vary depending on the gender of heterosexuals and the gender of sexual minorities. In this correlational study, I found that positive contact with gay men and positive contact with lesbian women both independently predicted heterosexuals’ intentions to fight for equal marriage rights. However, for heterosexual men, positive contact with gay men predicted increased collective action intentions more strongly than positive contact with lesbian women. In contrast, for heterosexual women, positive contact with gay men and positive contact with lesbian women emerged as equally powerful predictors of collective action intentions. On the other hand, negative contact with gay men and negative contact with lesbian women were not significant predictors of collective action intentions for either heterosexual men or women. In addition, the inclusion of negative contact with gay men and negative contact with lesbian women in the analyses did not have any impact the positive contact-collective action relationship.
Overall, the current thesis advances our understanding of intergroup contact in several ways. Specifically, the present empirical studies provide evidence that (a) positive and negative contact are associated both with prejudice and intergroup outcomes beyond prejudice (i.e., negative metaperceptions and collective action for equal rights); (b) while negative contact is the more robust predictor of several negative intergroup outcomes (i.e., old-fashioned prejudice, modern prejudice, negative metaperceptions), positive contact is the more robust predictor of collective action; (c) intergroup anxiety serves as a core mediating factor that explains why negative contact is linked to increased intergroup negativity; (d) the effects of positive and negative contact on intergroup attitudes appear to be generalizable to non-Western populations; (e) the relationship between positive contact and collective action intentions appears to vary depending on the gender of heterosexuals and the gender of sexual minorities. Theoretical significance, practical implications, limitations and avenues for future research are discussed.