How positive and negative intergroup contact jointly inform minority support for social change: The role of system-fairness beliefs

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Wed. 10.04.'24 14:45




Purpose and background: Research suggests that positive contact such as friendly interactions or friendships with majority group members may sometimes “sedate” (undermine) disadvantaged minority group members’ motivation to challenge the status quo and support social change towards equality. In contrast, negative contact, such as hostile or unfair treatment by majority group members, may promote minority support for social change. However, most studies to date have examined positive and negative contact separately, which may not give an accurate picture of their effects. This study presents the first multinational examination of the associations and interplay of positive and negative contact on minority support for social change, namely their collective action, their support for empowering policies and their willingness to work with majority allies to achieve greater equality. The current study also examines the role of system-fairness beliefs. Methods: We tested Multigroup Structural Equation Models after first establishing configural and (partial) metric invariance across seven ethnic minority samples in six countries (N = 790). Results:As expected, negative contact predicted higher minority support for social change. As for positive contact we found that, in line with sedation, it predicted less support indirectly via enhanced system fairness beliefs. However, it also predicted more support for social change directly, and, in all but one national context, the total effects of positive contact were non-significant or significantly positive. Conclusions:This study shows that increased system-fairness beliefs can explain sedative effects of positive contact, and that positive contact may also promote minority group members’ support for social change. We conclude that sedative effects of positive contact may be overestimated by not considering negative contact. As for the policy implications of our findings, we do not take our finding that negative contact may promote minority support for social change to mean that negative contact should encouraged to achieve social change. After all, negative contact has many undesirable effects, and our and others’ findings show that positive intergroup interactions can also potentially promote (already often rather high) support for social change among minority group members. Furthermore, positive contact with members of disadvantaged groups can promote majority group members’ support for social change towards equality. Taken together, this suggests that policy-makers, educators, and the like should strive to create opportunities for positive intergroup contact where minority group members feel heard and empowered, majority group members feel accepted, and inequalities are discussed.