More than 50 years after its proposal (Allport, 1954), the contact hypothesis, that is the hypothesis that prejudice can be reduced if people, belonging to different groups, have a positive contact, is still vital. The reasons for this longevity are numerous. First, contact hypothesis is related to prejudice reduction, a complex phenomenon, widespread in modern societies. Intergroup contact is now acknowledged as one of the most effective strategies for prejudice reduction. A second important reason, that may explain the success of contact theory, is related to the methodological opportunities it offers to researchers. Intergroup contact has been studied through experimental and correlational designs, adopting various analytical procedures, and considering cross-sectional and longitudinal data. Moreover, this field of research involves the distinction between implicit and explicit measures of prejudice and the proof of validity of the adopted measures.
In this special issue, we present three papers sharing the common interest for intergroup contact. The first paper, by Sharp and Hewstone, deals with a major problem of contact research: the validity of the measures generally used to assess intergroup contact. Adopting an experimental approach, the authors clearly show that self-reports of contact, unlike attitude scales, are not influenced by context effects, thus increasing our confidence in the findings obtained through self-reports of social interactions. The paper by Capozza, Vezzali, Trifiletti, Falvo, and Favara concerns affective and cognitive processes involved in the relation between contact and prejudice reduction, and adopts a structural equation modeling approach, that is the most sophisticated tool available in this field of research. In particular, Capozza and collaborators consider the role of common ingroup identity, anxiety and empathy, showing a process of generalization from known immigrants to the whole category of immigrants. Finally, the paper by Voci and Pagotto is again related to the topic of generalization, but from a different perspective. In particular, the authors test a mediated moderation model, in which the simultaneous mediation of intergroup anxiety and moderation of typicality of known immigrants explain how and when contact may reduce prejudice toward immigrants in general.
In conclusion, the three papers deal with important topics that are at stake in the contact literature, confirming that this field of research can be characterized by a creative and useful combination of theoretical and methodological sophistication.Back