The irony of harmony: A group position perspective on intergroup contact

Date of Completion

January 2008


Psychology, Social




The current research investigated how power-related motivations affect the way group members approach intergroup contact and how certain types of contact might affect power relations between groups. Due to different motivations for change in the status quo (i.e., change in the power structure between the groups), advantaged and disadvantaged group members were hypothesized to desire different contents for intergroup interactions. Drawing on theories of intergroup power, two types of interaction content were contrasted: power-focused content, theorized to challenge the status quo by directing attention to differences in group power in a de-legitimizing way, and commonality focused content, hypothesized to contribute to the stability of the status quo by masking power relations. Study 1 demonstrated that whereas advantaged group members (non-Latino White Americans) believed that commonality-focused contact would benefit their group's position more than power-focused contact, the reverse was true for disadvantaged group members (Latino Americans). Study 2, in which power was experimentally manipulated, and Study 3, involving ethnic groups in Israel, showed that disadvantaged group members had a greater preference than did advantaged group members for power-focused contact, and this preference was mediated by higher motivation for change in the status quo toward equality. Advantaged group members in Studies 2 and 3 generally preferred to focus on commonalities over power in intergroup interactions. Study 4 demonstrated that when a goal to sustain power relations is particularly strong, advantaged group members (White Americans in the context of Black-White relations) increased their desire to focus on commonalities (compared with a no-goal control condition). Study 5, involving experimental groups, and Study 6, involving real groups (Arabs in Israel), showed that commonality-focused contact generated expectations for equality among disadvantaged group members, which may undermine their motivation for change in the status quo. Taken together, the results help illuminate processes that could have a profound impact on the effectiveness of intergroup interactions and thereby can inform both practitioners and researchers aiming to design encounters that can not only promote tolerance but also advance equality between groups. ^