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Often when different groups of people come together this can cause conflict due to competition and social dilemmas creating negative thoughts, feelings and attitudes towards particular people associated with those groups. Competition between groups arises when groups are forced to compete for scarce jobs, housing or resources. When a minority group increases in size they may be seen as a threat to resources and so may cause an influx of hostility towards this group. For instance, this can be seen when people in California were reminded that ethnic minorities were becoming majorities, this shifted white Americans views in a more conservative direction (Craig & Richeson, 2014, p.419). Hostilities also arise when social dilemmas such as Global warming become a threat to our existence, but people often do not agree on these dilemmas and choose individually rewarding choices rather than helping to overcome this problem so therefore their choice becomes collectively punishing. There are many ways psychologists aim to improve these intergroup relations between people with prejudices towards others due to previous conflict. This essay is going to explore the strategies such as contact, cooperation and communication and whether they are effective when used to improve intergroup relations.
Bringing two individuals or groups who hold prejudice towards each other into close contact may improve the way they think and feel about each other. However, even bringing two individuals or groups together could be easier said than done due to “pluralistic ignorance”, the fear of rejection and misconception that others do not reciprocate their feelings. For instance, Cairns and Hewstone (2002, p.427) found that protestant and catholic girls did not mix with each other as they felt awkward despite wanting to mix. Despite this it is widely believed that contact, even extended contact, could indeed improve relations between groups who hold prejudice towards each other. For example, Tausch et al (2010, p.426) found that Blacks and Whites have better attitudes towards each other when they have had more friendly contact with one another. This increase in positive attitudes also extended towards other outgroups, such as Hispanics. Not only does this show that contact strategies used by psychologists can improve relations, but it also shows a form of extended contact can improve relations with other groups. Furthermore, even technology has been used to help improve relations by using computer mediated contact as a form of extended contact. For example, Lin and Cao (2017) found that the use of video-based and text-based contact improved relations between Mainland Chinese and Hong-Kong people. Nevertheless, the different methods had different effects, video-based contact had a greater influence in improving participants’ attitudes towards an individual outgroup member when compared to text-based. However, text-based methods had a stronger effect on the participants attitudes towards the outgroup. This study conveys how important technology could be in improving intergroup relations as it allows groups who may not normally come into contact with each other to communicate and improve their overall attitudes towards each other. Anyhow, this study shows that text-based methods may be better suited to improving intergroup relations when you want the results to generalise to the whole outgroup. All the examples so far have been based on positive contact, but negative contact also has a great effect on attitudes. Techakesari (2015) found that negative contact ultimately increased intergroup anxiety, prejudice, and negative misperceptions and was more consistent in predicting attitudes. This research indicates that negative contact has the opposite effect to positive contact and could have a larger impact on attitudes. This idea is backed up by Graff, Poalini and Rubin (2015) as they found that negative contact was more influential when it came to forming outgroup attitudes. However, Graff et al (2015) also discovered that positive contact was 3 times more likely to occur than negative contact. This example supports the idea that contact may not always be an effective method to use as it will depend on the way in which the contact occurs, whether it is positive or negative. Allport (1954) proposed that there are optimal conditions that must be in place for contact to be successful. These conditions include but are not limited to, groups being of equal status, having a common goal, intergroup cooperation, and the support of authorities. For instance, when people perceive the opposing group to be of unequal status it creates attitudes that only justify the inequalities (Pettigrew, 1988; Stephan, 1987, p.430). So therefore, to achieve positive contact and for intergroup relations to be successful these conditions must be met. Overall, though it may be hard to bring people together, new ways using technology are making this easier and when done right this leads to positive contact that can achieve a great improvement on the attitudes towards outgroup members. Consequently, this generalises to the whole group, therefore increasing intergroup relations and rendering it an effective measure to improve relations in most situations.
Is contact alone the best way of improving intergroup relations or is another factor like cooperation involved? Sherif (1966) found that contact alone was not sufficient enough to improve relations amongst different teams of children, it only gave them opportunities for taunts and attacks which ultimately made things worse. However, when the group were given common goals they worked together, and hostilities plummeted whilst friendships rose. This is down to the fact that common goals and shared threats breed unity, cooperative contact may unite whilst competitive contact may divide. The use of subordinate goals to improve intergroup relations can be seen in research by Adachi (2016). They found that only 12 minutes of intergroup cooperation when playing video games was needed to boost outgroup attitudes and improve relationships. This indicates that subordinate goals, in this case to win, are very effective as a method to improve intergroup relations as it takes very little time and only needs simple methods such as playing video games together. Another method of communication that has been linked to improving intergroup relations are common external threats. For instance, Liehr et al (2004, p.431) found after the tragedy of 9/11, that the use of the word “we” doubled. This showed that when people felt there was a terrorist threat, they started seeing each other collectively as a whole rather than “me” against “them”. Kuchenbrandt, Eyssel and Seidel (2013) found even imagined intergroup cooperation had a better effect than imagined contact on its own at decreasing anxiety and improving intergroup relations. This indicates that cooperation may be the more important factor when it comes to improving relations as it produces better results. However, it may not be easy to get people to cooperate in the first place due to a lack of trust. For instance, it was found that people trust and cooperate more with ingroup members rather than outgroup members and strangers, so therefore it may be harder to build cohesiveness between all groups even when they share subordinate goals or common threats (Romano, Balliet, Yamagishi & Liu, 2017). Cooperation also may not be effective when groups cooperative effort fails. For example, Worchel and Norvell (1980) found in their experiment with university students that successful cooperation between two groups resulted in a boost in attraction for each other. However, when cooperative efforts resulted in failure and groups could not attribute this failure to other variables, group members often blamed the outgroup. This scapegoating caused intergroup relations to worsen, which shows that for cooperation to be an effective way of improving intergroup relations, groups must be successful in achieving their goals. To conclude, cooperation seems to be more effective in improving intergroup relations than contact alone as it achieves better results when decreasing anxiety towards outgroup members. Despite that, cooperation may not always be effective as it can be hard to initiate with outgroup members as there is a lack of trust compared with ingroup members. Also, if the cooperation fails this may lead to worse intergroup relations.
Another important method to improve intergroup relations that is used widely is communication. Conflicting parties will often resolve their conflicts by bargaining with each other directly, asking a third party to mediate, or by using an arbitrator to study the issues and impose a settlement. Bargaining is thought to work better when the negotiators adopt a tough bargaining stance and open with an extreme offer. For instance, Cialdini, Bickman and Cacioppo (1979) found that when approaching car dealers a tougher bargaining stance often got them a lower price by an average of $200 lower, than in the control condition where these tactics were not applied. However, if both groups take an equally tough stance this can sometimes lead to each party to be locked into positions resolving nothing at all. Harinck and Van Kleef (2012) found when the tough bargaining concerns values this leads to them not being effective. This is seen in the conflict between President Bush and Saddam Hussein when trying to avoid war they used insulting statements towards each other such as “lets kick Saddam’s ass” (Hogg & Vaughan, 2014). This resulted in each party being unable to evade war and save face. To help break this deadlock a third-party mediator can be used, they may make suggestions which enable conflicting parties to make compromises and still save face. Third party mediators can come up with win-win solutions, reduce emotional heat and encourage the formation of trust. This has been seen in the likes of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as mediation produced several agreements between the two countries (Pruitt, 1986). However, if a mediator is biased, they will be ineffective as they will not be trusted. Therefore, mediators should be seen to have power and be impartial (Lim & Carnevale, 1990). When mediation is ineffective as the underlying interests are so different, arbitration can be used to impose a settlement and resolve the conflict. McGillicuddy, Welton and Pruitt (1987) found that often even the thought of arbitration caused people to try harder to solve the conflict, as they would prefer to maintain control rather than let an arbitrator decide. However, Pruitt (1986) found that arbitration can fail if both groups take outrageous final positions in the hope that the third-party will propose a settlement in their favour. Despite this, recent research has shown that when mediation and arbitration are used together it produces better results deeming it to be the most effective method. For example, Loschelder and Trötschel (2010) found that med-arb reduced intergroup competitiveness more than third-party mediation on its own. This resulted in conflict being resolved more efficiently as there were less hurtful remarks and more cooperative behaviour. Overall, communication as a technique to improve intergroup relations can be an effective way of coming up with a solution. However, communication techniques can often backfire leaving groups in a worse position than they were to begin with, so this technique may be better used as a last resort.
To conclude, contact, cooperation and communication can all be effective ways of reducing intergroup anxiety and improving relations. However, contact and cooperation may work better together rather than alone as for contact to work groups must be willing to cooperate with each other. When performed correctly contact and cooperation can even reduce intergroup anxiety using imagined scenarios. This means that these tactics can be used widely and easily throughout the world as people do not even need to meet each other for their attitudes to change. Despite the disadvantages such as the effects of negative contact or the lack of trust with out-group members, both contact and cooperation are effective ways of improving intergroup relations as they have tremendous effects on improving attitudes towards other groups. On the other hand, although communication can be effective at resolving conflict there are many ways it can backfire. This often produces a more hostile environment between the two groups, as every group wants the solution to go in their favour. Contact and cooperation should be considered before using communication tactics as they have often produced more effective results.
Word count: 1988 words.
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