“The Function of Social Interactions in the Success of Diverse Societies”
If we want our diverse society to be successful, then we need to understand how social interactions between people from different social groups (“intergroup interactions”) affect prejudice. The “intergroup contact effect” refers to the fact that people who have a history of intergroup interactions tend to be less prejudiced, but this effect is small. Moreover, we so often see examples of where contact goes wrong — with contact even being a necessary precursor for war. This talk will present a new theoretical model for thinking about intergroup contact that seeks to more accurately predict prejudice from intergroup interactions, positing that the linear relationship that we have been chasing is better thought of as asymptotic ideal that will never quite be reached. I will present evidence that this asymptotic, heteroskedastic model of intergroup contact describes more accurately than other theoretical approaches do. In the beginning, people’s responses to intergroup interactions should be quite variable and the relationship between intergroup interactions and prejudice should be curvilinear. After a certain degree of intergroup contact, though, prejudice levels should fluctuate much less after each intergroup interaction and begin to reflect the linear effect that most past research has been trying to capture. Our model also allows for contact to have a negative impact on intergroup relations. Taking advantage of advanced methods (e.g., experience sampling, agent-based simulation) and inferential tools (e.g., variance components models, model comparison), I will describe a set of studies that led my colleagues and to think more broadly about the success or failure of diverse societies.