Elaboration enhances the imagined contact effect

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Journal Article

Recent studies have shown that imagining intergroup contact can improve attitudes held toward a range of social groups. We extended research on imagined contact by testing an elaborated task variant designed specifically to enhance future contact intentions. In three experiments imagined contact heightened intentions, elaborated imagery enhanced this effect, and these enhancements were attributable to both reduced intergroup anxiety and an increase in the reported vividness of the imagined scenario. Furthermore, prior contact enhanced the vividness with which imagined scenarios were envisaged, with concurrent benefits for future contact intentions. Results also supported the notion that elaboration creates a more accessible contact script upon which to base future judgments of intention. We discuss the implications of these findings for a developing model of imagined contact effects.

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Type of Article
Journal Article
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Experiment 1

In Experiment 1 we aimed to provide an initial test of the hypothesis that imagined contact would enhance intentions to engage in future actual contact. It was hypothesized that those participants instructed to imagine contact with an outgroup member (in this case British Muslims) would be more likely to express greater intentions to engage in future contact than those participants asked to imagine a control scenario.

Participants 33 British non-Muslim undergraduate students at the University of Kent, 9 male and 24 female, aged between 18 and 24 (M= 20.5), were randomly allocated to one of two conditions: control vs. imagined contact. The target group was British Muslims. [...]

Procedure [...] Participants then were given one of two possible sets of task instruction. [...] As such, in Experiment 1 we used the standard no-contact control scene used in previous research. Participants were asked: [Verbal Stimulus A]. Participants assigned to the imagined contact condition received the following instruction: [Verbal Stimulus B]. [...] In both conditions, participants were given 1 min to imagine the scene. In order to further reinforce the effects of the imagery task, participants were then instructed to “Describe as many aspects of the scenario you just imagined as possible” for 1 min on a response sheet. Participants were then asked to complete the dependent measures and finally feedback questions before being thanked and debriefed.

Dependent measures To measure intentions to engage in future contact participants were asked to respond to four items. These were adapted from Ratcliff, Ratcliff, Czuchry, Scarberry, Thomas, Dansereau and Lord (1999)'s measure of behavioral intentions. [...]

Experiment 2

Participants Sixty British non-Muslim undergraduate students at the University of Kent, 15 male and 45 female, aged between 17 and 46 (M= 21.0), were randomly allocated to one of two conditions: imagined contact vs. elaborated imagined contact. [...]

Procedure At the start of the experiment the researcher told participants that they were participating in a study based on the perceptions of attitudes on various social issues. In order to determine the quantity of prior contact with British Muslims, participants were asked: [Verbal Stimulus C] on a scale from 1 (none) to 7 (a lot). To determine the quality of contact participants were asked to characterize their contact with British Muslims based on the following adjectives: superficial-deep; natural-forced; unpleasant-pleasant; competitive-cooperative; intimate-distant on bipolar scales ranging from 1 to 7. [...] Participants assigned to the standard imagined contact condition received the instructions used in Experiment 1: [Verbal Stimulus D]. To increase the vividness of the imagined scenario we used a method derived from the literature on goal pursuit. [...] Participants assigned to the elaborated imagined contact condition received the following modified instructions: [Verbal Stimulus E]. [...]

Dependent measures In order to measure the vividness of the imagined scenarios, participants in the imagined contact conditions were asked “the imagined scenario in my mind is…” after which they had to state the degree to which the image was: faint-vivid; fuzzy-clear; dim-bright; vague-sharp; dull-lively; simple-detailed on bipolar scales ranging from 1 to 9. The mean of the items was taken as a composite measure of vividness [...]. Adapted from Stephan and Stephan (1985) intergroup anxiety was measured by asking participants the extent to which in a future encounter with a British Muslim they would feel: awkward; suspicious; angry; embarrassed; calm; annoyed; irritated; frustrated; anxious; tense; furious; comfortable; relaxed; confident; hostile, all from 1 (not at all) and 7 (very much). [...] To measure outgroup attitudes we adapted Wright et al. (1997)'s scale whereby participants were asked to state how they felt toward British Muslims in general, based the following bi-polar scale items: cold-warm; positive-negative; friendly-hostile; suspicious-trusting; respectful-contempt; admiration-disgust, anchored from 1 to 9. [...]

Experiment 3

Our aim in Experiment 3 was to develop a deeper understanding of the cognitive consequences of elaborated imagery. In particular we wanted to gain a specific insight into the impact of elaboration on the strength of the script formed from imagined contact, and to do this we adopted a different perspective to that taken in Experiments 1 and 2.

Participants Sixty undergraduate students (19 male and 41 female) aged 18 to 29 (M= 20.93) were randomly allocated to either standard imagined contact or elaborated imagined contact conditions. In this study, to enhance generalizability, the target outgroup (for our Young participants) were the Elderly. [...]

Procedure Participants entered the laboratory and were given the standard and elaborated imagined contact task instructions used in Experiment 2. They were informed that this task was a simple pre-test and that the study would continue the next day. The following day, participants returned to the laboratory and were asked to recall the scenario that they imagined the previous day, and to complete the dependent measures. After completion participants were thanked and debriefed.

Dependent measures In order to determine the ease of recall and confidence regarding the imagined scenarios of the previous day, participants were asked to recall the scenario they imagined, and to answer the following three questions: “How easy is it for you to recall details of the imagined scenario?” “How quickly are you able to recall the imagined scenario?” and “How confident are you in the accuracy of what you can recall of the imagined scenario?” anchored 1=not at all easy / quickly / confident to 7=very easy / quickly / confident. [...].

Type of Prejudice/Bias