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Buffering Effects of Negative Intergroup Contact Through Complex Social Identities

Although negative intergroup contact occurs less frequently than positive contact, negative contact can more strongly influence outgroup attitudes and behaviors due to the effect of category salience in the generalization process. The present study (N =306) tests whether being aware of an outgroup member’s complex social identity will serve as a buffer against the adverse impact of a negative intergroup contact experience on outgroup attitudes. In a 3X2 between-subjects design, social identity complexity (SIC) of an outgroup confederate (high versus low versus control) and the valence of contact (neutral versus negative) were manipulated. Participants interacted with an outgroup confederate on Skype chat; before this interaction, the confederate introduced herself with different identities that either overlap a lot (low social identity complexity), or a little (high social identity complexity), or no information was given regarding the confederate’s social identity complexity. After this manipulation, the confederate leaves the chat, either because of presumed dislike of the participant (negative contact condition) or due to technical issues (neutral contact condition). Following these procedures, participants were asked to respond to several questions about their contact experience, their interaction partner, and the target outgroup. In line with my hypothesis, results showed a significant SIC by valence interaction effect for outgroup attitudes; adverse attitudinal outcomes of negative intergroup contact were less extreme when participants interacted with a confederate high in SIC (i.e., with little overlap in their social identities), as compared to when they interacted with a confederate low in SIC (i.e., with considerable overlap in their social identities). Nevertheless, this pattern of experimental effects did not hold for outcomes related to perceived variability of the outgroup and willingness to become friends with outgroup members.
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