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Article

A large-scale test of the link between intergroup contact and support for social change

Hässler T., Ullrich J., Bernardino M., Shnabel N., Valdenegro D., Van Laar C., Sebben S., Visintin E. P., Tropp L. R., González R., Abrams D., Ditlmann R. K., Selvanathan H. P., von Zimmermann J., Wright S., Brankovic M., Aydin A. L., Pasek M., Pereira A., Žeželj I., Lantos N. A., Sainz M., Glenz A., Oberpfalzerová H., Bilewicz M., Kende A., Kuzawinska O., Otten S., Maloku E., Gul P., Noor M., Pistella J., Baiocco R., Jelic M., Osin E. N., Bareket O., Biruski D. C., Cook J., Dawood M., Droogendyk L., Loyo A. H., Kelmendi K., Ugarte L. M.

Beginning with the historic racial desegregation in the United States, and spreading to other parts of the world, policy makers, guided by the findings of social scientists (e.g., Allport, 1954), have advocated for increased intergroup contact (e.g., in schools and neighborhoods) as the key to prejudice reduction and increased social cohesion. Recent work on the ‘irony of harmony’ effect ( Saguy, Tausch, Dovidio, & Pratto, 2009), however, suggests that intergroup contact can undermine disadvantaged group’s support for social change toward greater equality (e.g., Çakal, Hewstone, Schwär, & Heath, 2011; Dixon, Durrheim, & Tredoux, 2007). Using a large and heterogeneous dataset (N = 12,997 individuals from 69 countries), we demonstrate that intergroup contact and support for social change toward greater equality are positively associated among members of advantaged groups (ethnic majorities and cis-heterosexuals), but negatively associated among disadvantaged groups (ethnic minorities and sexual and gender minorities), supporting the ‘irony of harmony’ effect. Specification curve analysis revealed important variation in the size—and at times, direction—of correlations, depending on how contact and support for social change were measured. This allowed us to identify one type of support for change, willingness to work in solidarity for social change, that is positively associated with intergroup contact among both advantaged- and disadvantaged-group members.