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Contact Hypothesis

 

Explanations > Theories > Contact Hypothesis

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

This is the principle that bringing people together who are in conflict (or where one is bullying the other), the conflict will subside as they get to understand one another.

When first tried in such as multi-racial schools, this often failed dramatically. In practice, it requires other conditions:

  • Remove conflict: It is not sufficient just to nullify the source of problems, but it is necessary.
  • Mutual Interdependence: Where one party can safely pull out, then this position of power can destroy common understanding.
  • Equal status: If one party has advantages that the other does not, then this again unbalances power.
  • Positive contact: The context for contact between parties must be conducive to friendly interactions.
  • Typical contact: The people that are met must be perceived as typical of the other groups, so that the positive perceptions are generalized to the rest of the population.
  • Social norms of equality: In the situation of contact, it must be a general norm that all parties are equal.

Research

Sherif et al (1961) in the famous boy's camp study where they stirred up rivalry between two groups found that they could cool the hostility down by giving them tasks where no one group could complete it by themselves. Thus forced to work together, the boys became friends again.

Example

Judicial systems sometimes insist on petty criminals directly helping the people they have hurt. Done well, this helps both parties.  

So what?

Using it

To mediate between conflicting parties, use the above principles to set up a situation where they can meet and increase understanding.

See also

Scapegoat Theory

http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Sherif/

References

Allport (1954), Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood and Sherif (1961)

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