Getting to know you: How familiarity breeds respect

11/10/05

When someone in our social group makes friends with someone from another background, the chances are that our own prejudices will break down, according to new ESRC-funded research.

A study led by Dr. Adam Rutland, of the University of Kent, backs claims that the more we learn about others, the better we are likely to get on with them.

It found that what is termed the 'extended contact' approach, could effectively change children's attitudes and intended behaviour towards refugees, across the entire age range from six to 11.

Extended contact works on the idea that when a member of one group has a close relationship or contact with someone from another, this can lead to more positive attitudes all round.

Best results of all came when children were encouraged to see their own and other groups as sharing a common identity – their school – in addition to retaining their separate one as, say, English or a refugee. In other words, having a 'dual' identity.

To test this theory, researchers presented English children with one of their group who had made friends with a refugee youngster. Exercises over several weeks also included getting children to read adventure stories in which both English and refugee youngsters were shown in a positive light, and as friends.

Dr Rutland said: "Our findings testify to the value of extended contact as an approach to reducing prejudice. In particular, we found that including characters from other backgrounds in the stories read at school was very effective." The project examined various theories about childhood prejudice, and the effectiveness of various processes, or interventions, used by those trying to encourage friendship and co-operation.

The area studied was East Kent, which includes Dover and Folkestone, and contains a high proportion of immigrants or refugees as the main port of entry into the UK. Tension has arisen between the majority community and immigrants. One intervention technique examined - multiple classification skills training - is based on the belief that children are prejudiced because they cannot cope with more than one concept – for instance, that someone is Afro-Caribbean British and friendly. Nor, it is thought, can they take into account other people's points of view.

However, researchers found that though this sort of training improved children's ability to handle multiple concepts, it had no effect on attitudes towards others. Alternative approaches, all found effective, derive from theories that, under a given set of conditions, contact between members of different groups reduces existing prejudices.

Dr Rutland said: "It seems that extended contact leads children to 'include the other in the self' and this in turn leads to more positive attitudes."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson