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Improving intergroup relations through actual and imagined contact : field experiments with Malawian shopkeepers and Chinese migrants.

Smyth, Russell and Gu, Jun and Mueller, Annika and Nielson, Ingrid and Shachat, Jason (2019) 'Improving intergroup relations through actual and imagined contact : field experiments with Malawian shopkeepers and Chinese migrants.', Economic development and cultural change., 68 (1). pp. 273-303.


We examine the ability of intergroup contact to ameliorate intergroup relationship in an entrepreneurial and developing world context. Specifically, we provide a simple decision model of how an entrepreneur chooses to invest time to extend their professional network. The model accommodates two distinct channels, and generates alternative predictions based upon which is activated by intergroup contact. One is the knowledge of the necessary time investment to forge a network connection with a member of another group and the second is the preference driven disutility of that time spent with that individual. We then employ randomized experiments to test whether actual and imagined contact effectively reduces prejudice between indigenous Malawian shopkeepers, and their Chinese migrant counterparts and test the stability of these changes over time. Actual contact produced differing results. Local Malawians’ attitude towards Chinese migrants did not improve, but their willingness-to-spend time with them did. In contrast, actual contact led to improvement in the Chinese migrants’ attitude toward local Malawians, but did not increase their willingness-to-spend time with them. These effects persisted over a time period of at least ten days. Imagined contact had no impact on Malawians’ attitude towards or willingness to spend time with Chinese migrants. These results are consistent with contact activating informational channels more so than preference ones.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:© 2018 by The University of Chicago.
Date accepted:31 December 2017
Date deposited:29 January 2018
Date of first online publication:24 September 2018
Date first made open access:10 September 2019

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