Who needs imagined contact? Replication attempts examining previous contact as a potential moderator.

Publication Year


Journal Article

Imagined contact is a widely-used methodology for decreasing prejudice. Recently, however, the effectiveness and replicability of imagined contact have been debated. To the extent that imagined contact is theoretically a valuable intervention when actual contact is absent or less feasible, previous intergroup contact experiences presumably moderate the efficacy of imagined contact. The present investigation found that imagined contact effects were stronger among heterosexuals with infrequent (vs. frequent) previous contact with gays, improving their intergroup emotions and attitudes (Study 1, N = 261). In contrast, there were no such effects of imagined contact with Muslims among non-Muslims (Study 2, N = 320). These findings highlight the potential for moderators to impact the efficacy of experimental contact simulations. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Social Psychology
Type of Article
Journal Article
Full text

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Study 1


Participants A heterosexual US sample (261 participants, Mage = 38.51, 85% Caucasian, 58% female) was recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk. [...]

Measures and Materials Participants indicated demographics, followed by an imagined contact scenario. Those randomly assigned to the imagined contact condition were instructed: [Verbal Stimulus A]. The control condition contained the same instructions, without sexual orientation specified. Target sex matched participant sex. Next, participants described what they had imagined in 1–2 paragraphs. Participants then completed the following measures in random order, with intergroup contact frequency asked last:

1 Gay Anxiety (10-item): Participants indicated how anxious they feel around gays, with higher scores representing feeling more awkward, self-conscious, and careful [...].

Gay Empathy (6-item): Participants indicated feelings of sympathy, compassion, softheartedness, warmness, tenderness, and being moved by gays.

Gay Trust (4-item): Participants indicated viewing gays as trustworthy.

Gay Rights Support (20-item): Participants indicated support for gay rights issues (e.g., gay marriage, antidiscrimination laws).

Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gays, Short (ATLG, 10-item): Participants indicated their bias against gays, with higher scores reflecting more general bias.

Gays-Thermometer (2-items averaged, [...]): Participants completed separate feeling thermometers for gay men and lesbian women (0 = extremely unfavorable, 100 = extremely favorable).

Intergroup Contact Frequency (4-item): Participants indicated frequency of interaction with gays in daily life.

Study 2

In Study 1, we found some support for our hypothesis that imagined contact is more effective among those lacking previous contact (with gays as the target). However, it is not clear whether this effect generalizes to other prejudice targets (e.g., groups stereotyped as particularly threatening and anxiety-provoking). In Study 2, we conducted a very similar imagined contact study but with Muslims as the target.

Study 2 Method

Participants A non-Muslim US sample (320 participants, Mage = 37.64, 83% Caucasian, 57% female) was recruited through Mturk. [...]

Materials Participants reported demographics followed by the imagined contact manipulation, identical to Study 1 except (1) the target group was Muslims, and (2) participants imagined sitting on a park bench (vs. riding a train). Participants then completed the following measures in random order, with intergroup contact frequency asked last: Muslim Anxiety, Muslim Empathy, and Muslim Trust (see Study 1).

Muslims-Thermometer: Participants indicating feelings toward Muslims (0 = extremely unfavorable, 100 = extremely favorable).

Islamophobia (16-item): Participants reported fearrelated attitudes toward Muslims.

Contact Intentions (4-item): Participants indicated intention to engage in future contact with Muslims.

Muslim Rights Support (4-item): Participants indicated whether Muslims should have equal rights [...].

Intergroup Contact Frequency (4-item): Participants indicated how often they interact with Muslims in their daily life.

Type of Prejudice/Bias