Intergroup Contact: Interpersonal and Situational Influences on Dyadic Interactions

Awarded Scholars:
Jennifer A. Richeson, Northwestern University
Project Date:
Nov 2001
Award Amount:
$197,524
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

Many of the studies on racial interactions have been limited to a single meeting between strangers in an artificial laboratory setting. J. Nicole Shelton of Princeton University and Jennifer A. Richeson of Dartmouth College have designed a project to examine the dynamics of repeated interactions between white and black students in real-world settings. Previous research has documented the dramatic impact that individuals' attitudes and stereotypes, as well as anxiety about how their interaction partner will perceive them, can have on intergroup encounters. For example, majority group members may be concerned about being perceived as prejudiced and minority group members may be concerned about being discriminated against. Unlike prior studies, Shelton and Richeson's research will focus on intergroup contact experiences from the perspective of both white and black students, not just the majority group member. Phase 1 of their study examines the extent to which people's prior concerns about their interaction are actually experienced during an intergroup encounter and whether the dynamics change with repeated encounters or triggering events, such as discussion of a race-related topic. Phase 2 focuses on intergroup encounters in a situation that is likely to evoke anxieties from both group members. In this case, the researchers will focus on the selection process for Princeton's Eating Clubs, because of the Clubs' history of discrimination against admitting ethnic minorities. Thus, the predominantly white members of the clubs would be very concerned about not appearing prejudiced, while minority members applying for admission would be anxious about being rejected because of race. Phase 3 will examine the intergroup interaction from the perspective of both participants simultaneously. The researchers hypothesize that as both parties sense each other's anxiety (about appearing prejudiced or about being discriminated against), they will employ compensatory strategies, resulting in a more positive interaction for both people. For this phase, the researchers will examine involuntary interactions between white and black students assigned to be roommates compared with voluntary interactions between black and white students who strike up a friendship on campus. Findings from the studies will be published in a series of articles.

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