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What works in social integration?: Intergroup contact

Published 10 November 2014 / By Miles Hewstone

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Diversity does not equal contact

Robert Putnam suggested that diversity may drive down ‘out-group’ trust but an authoritative overview of research findings from many studies refutes this claim.

A purposely-designed survey of White-British and ethnic-minority respondents in England examined the relationship between neighborhood ethnic diversity and three different types of trust: out-group, in-group and neighborhood trust, as well as intergroup attitudes. We tested these relationships while accounting for intergroup contact and perceived intergroup threat, and controlling for deprivation.

While for the White British majority we did observe some negative effects (similar to those reported by Putnam), for the ethnic minority sample, living in neighborhoods with greater numbers of majority group members did not adversely affect trust and intergroup attitudes. For the White British majority intergroup contact played a crucial role: Living in more diverse neighborhoods was associated with greater frequency of positive intergroup contact with ethnic minority members, such that most of the negative direct effects of diversity (both actual and perceived) were cancelled out once these positive contact experiences were accounted for.

This recent research underlines that diversity and contact are not equivalent; that diversity is typically related to increased contact; and that contact promotes greater out-group trust across a variety of ethnic, faith and other social groups.

Miles Hewstone is Professor of Social Psychology at the Oxford Centre for the Study of Intergroup Conflict, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford


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