The Irony of Harmony: Intergroup Contact Can Produce False Expectations for Equality

Tamar Saguy, Nicole Tausch, John F. Dovidio, Felicia Pratto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

420 Citations (Scopus)


Positive intergroup contact has been a guiding framework for research on reducing intergroup tension and for interventions aimed at that goal. We propose that beyond improving attitudes toward the out-group, positive contact affects disadvantaged-group members' perceptions of intergroup inequality in ways that can undermine their support for social change toward equality. In Study 1, participants were assigned to either high- or low-power experimental groups and then brought together to discuss either commonalities between the groups or intergroup differences. Commonality-focused contact, relative to difference-focused contact, produced heightened expectations for fair (i.e., egalitarian) out-group behavior among members of disadvantaged groups. These expectations, however, proved unrealistic when compared against the actions of members of the advantaged groups. Participants in Study 2 were Israeli Arabs (a disadvantaged minority) who reported the amount of positive contact they experienced with Jews. More positive intergroup contact was associated with increased perceptions of Jews as fair, which in turn predicted decreased support for social change. Implications for social change are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-121
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


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