The Little Things Matter: Shining a Positive Light on Out-Group Members

Image by Sofia-Jeanne Roggeveen: Bethlehem, 2012

When conflict exists between two groups, it can be difficult to begin cultivating the possibility of friendly relations. One factor that has been successful in bridging the gap between formerly adversarial groups is by providing people from each side the opportunity to get to know and experience each other first hand. Unfortunately, direct contact between hostile groups can be challenging to arrange and sustain and has the potential to introduce sources of negativity between groups. There is often a background of interpersonal animosity that must be overcome to create successful intergroup ties. However, indirect intergroup contact may have benefits for reconciliation similar to those of direct contact, with fewer potential risks.

Recent empirical research among Croats and Bosniaks, two historically adversarial groups, explored the role of direct and indirect contact in building reconciliation. Indirect contact includes situations such as knowing an ingroup member is friends with an outgroup member or seeing an outgroup member portrayed in a positive light in the media, while direct contact requires face-to-face interaction. Researchers found that direct contact was linked to the likelihood of reconciliation even when accounting for the negative repercussions of increased intergroup contact. Furthermore, indirect forms of intergroup contact alone, even when factoring out direct contact, contribute to the likelihood of reconciliation between the groups.

These findings highlight the impact of indirect group contact on reconciliation among formerly hostile groups. For conflict resolution practitioners, enabling positive indirect contact between groups can be a powerful tool for increasing the odds of reconciliation, and often comes at a lower cost. In particular, in situations where direct contact is difficult or impossible, these findings provide an alternative doorway for practitioners to work towards intergroup reconciliation by increasing intergroup visibility and contact through indirect means.

Rupar, M., & Graf, S. (2018). Different forms of intergroup contact with former adversary are linked to distinct acts through symbolic and realistic threat. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. doi:10.1111/jasp.12565

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