Intergroup Contact Effects

Intergroup Contact Effects

Based on: “The generalization of intergroup contact effects: Emerging research, policy relevance, and future directions” (Boin et al., 2021)

Laya Bommireddy
Sandra Donnay

The mechanisms by which intergroup contact among members of different social groups change prejudicial attitudes involve the changing of cognitive and emotional representations of outgroup members. This impacts the way ingroup members experience not just the person with whom they have contact but entire outgroups and can lead to advanced problem-solving skills. The influence of intergroup contact on perceptions of outgroup members and cognitive development are called transfer effects and are classified as primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Primary transfer effects refer to the improvement in attitudes towards an outgroup member that generalizes to their entire outgroup. For example, Black and White children who have strong and positive friendships may not only show a reduction in prejudicial attitudes towards each other, but toward Black people or White people in general. Primary transfer effects are necessary for intergroup contact to foster positive intergroup relations. Cogent evidence shows that primary transfer effects may occur from experiences of direct (i.e., interpersonal) or indirect intergroup contact. Indirect intergroup contact can entail exposure to the outgroup via media or even one’s knowledge that another in-group member has contact with a member of the outgroup. However, since contact with outgroup members may at times not be positive, negative direct or indirect contact with an outgroup member can worsen intergroup attitudes towards that outgroup.

Secondary transfer effects are improvements in attitudes that extend beyond the encountered outgroup to other outgroups not involved in the contact. One study conducted of intergroup contact in eight European countries demonstrated that after positive contact with immigrants, attitudes towards Jewish and homosexual people also improved (Schmid, et al., 2012). The underlying cognitive mechanisms which may explain both primary and secondary effects include empathy, trust, outgroup morality, and perspective taking. Other explanatory processes include ingroup reappraisal, or a reexamination of the ingroup, and deprovincialization, by which one’s world view is less centered around the ingroup.

Tertiary transfer effects, unlike primary and secondary transfer effects, refer to the process of cognitive liberalization whereby interacting with members of an outgroup can lead to one’s cognitive flexibility. In other words, interacting with people from other (e.g., cultural, ethnic) social groups can expand one’s worldview, which may require more complex thinking and promote advanced problem-solving skills, higher productivity, and creativity.



Boin, J., Rupar, M., Graf, S., Neji, S., Spiegler, O., & Swart, H. (2021). The generalization of intergroup contact effects: Emerging research, policy relevance, and Future Directions. Journal of Social Issues, 77(1), 105–131.

Schmid, K., Hewstone, M., Küpper, B., Zick, A., & Wagner, U. (2012). Secondary transfer effects of intergroup contact. Social Psychology Quarterly, 75(1), 28–51.

Keep up to date with our latest work and upcoming workshops.