Using extended contact to improve physiological responses and behavior toward people with schizophrenia

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Extended contact has been shown to improve explicit and implicit attitudes toward a number of outgroups, but not yet toward people with mental health conditions. Using people with schizophrenia as the target group, this experiment is the first to demonstrate that extended contact can reduce explicit prejudice, buffer stress responses to future interactions, improve non-verbal behavior, and improve the quality of interactions in a manner detectable by the target group member. Participants watched a video of a brief, positive interaction between two strangers, one of whom they were led to believe had schizophrenia. Control participants watched the same video without being told that the person had schizophrenia. They then participated in a social interaction with a confederate whom they were led to believe had the disorder. Participants' cardiovascular and electrodermal activity were monitored immediately before the interaction. The interaction was also secretly recorded to allow independent judges to assess the participants' non-verbal behaviors. The confederate also rated the positivity of each interaction. Participants in the extended contact condition reported more positive attitudes toward people with schizophrenia, displayed more positive non-verbal behaviors, and had a more positive interaction with the confederate. Moreover, just prior to the interaction, participants in the extended contact condition displayed smaller anticipatory stress responses, as reflected in smaller changes in interbeat interval and non-specific skin conductance responses during this phase. Together, these findings support the use of the extended contact as an intervention that could lead to genuine changes in attitudes toward and treatment of people with severe mental health disorders.

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Type of Article
Journal Article
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Participants Forty-five students (25 female, mean age = 22.42) were randomly assigned to an extended contact or control condition. [...]

Materials and procedure Participants were ushered into a small research cubicle and instructed to watch a two-minute video showing two people seated in a similar looking cubicle having a friendly interaction — one male and one female, both Caucasian, and in their early twenties. [...] Participants in the control condition watched exactly the same video, but were not told that the male interaction partner had schizophrenia. After watching the two-minute video participants were left alone to complete measures of explicit attitude and behavioral intentions toward people with schizophrenia.

Explicit attitude and behavioral intentions We assessed attitudes using 6 items on 7-point semantic differential scales indicating participants' feelings toward people with schizophrenia cold–warm, suspicious– trusting, respectful–contempt (reversed), admiration–disgust (reversed), hostile–friendly, negative–positive. We assessed behavioral intentions with 6 items used in similar research. [...]

Physiological measures and subsequent interaction We used non-specific skin conductance responses (NS-SCR) and cardiovascular interbeat interval (IBI) as physiological correlates of participants' anxiety during the different phases of the experiment (Fig. 1). Physiological responses were monitored using a MP35 system [...]/ Electrodes used to measure NSSCR and IBI were attached to the participants after the attitude and behavioral intention questionnaires. [...] Participants were first given 5 min to relax. We then monitored their physiological responses for 2 further minutes of inactivity (T1, baseline phase). [...] Participants were then left alone for 2 min (T2, anticipation phase), after which the confederate knocked, sat in a chair 90 cm from and facing the participant, and engaged the participant in a 2-minute conversation [...] After the two-minute conversation the confederate rated the positivity of the interaction on a 7-point scale (1 = Very Negative,7= Very Positive). Without the participants' knowledge, their two-minute interactions were video-recorded using a MacBook placed unobtrusively in the corner of the room. These recordings were later shown to an independent rater who was also unaware of the nature of the experiment, experimental conditions or hypotheses. As both seating distance and shoulder orientation were held constant by this experimental design, the independent rater indicated how much each participant was “maintaining eye contact”, “laughing” and “nodding” on a 7-point scale [...].

Type of Prejudice/Bias