Mechanism of the secondary transfer effect of intergroup contact in classrooms: intergroup contact and social influence

Tibor Zingora, Olivia Spiegler, Tobias Stark, Chloe Bracegirdle, Miles Hewstone


Intergroup contact, especially friendship, can improve attitudes toward the contacted outgroup as well as other outgroups. This is referred to as the secondary transfer effect (STE). In a school environment, having friends from one minority should improve attitudes also toward other minorities. A widely known mechanism underlying STE is attitude generalization, whereby contact with a (primary) outgroup improves (primary) outgroup attitudes which, in turn, are linked to more positive attitudes towards a (secondary) outgroup. However, it is possible that adolescents adopt attitudes of minority friends what can be partly mistaken for contact effects. We introduce and investigate a new underlying mechanism of STE, attitude adoption, whereby individuals adopt the secondary outgroup attitudes of their primary outgroup friends. Furthermore, the similarity between primary and secondary outgroups has been suggested to play a crucial role in STE. While the contact effects on attitudes towards secondary outgroup can be facilitated by perceived similarity, similarity can play a different role in the case of attitude adoption. Thus, we study two primary outgroups, one that can be labelled as more similar to the secondary outgroup and one that can be labelled as less similar. We analysed two waves of adolescents’ friendship networks (12–13 years, N = 748) who were embedded within classrooms. We estimated two models, one for each primary outgroup. In each model, we included only those classrooms that contained primary group members, otherwise, we could not estimate how contact and attitudes of primary group members shape the evolution of attitudes towards the secondary outgroup. In the analysis, we focused on the contact of Dutch adolescents (ingroup) with Turkish-origin or other-ethnic-origin (primary outgroups) peers and Moroccan-origin (secondary outgroup) peers. We used the Bayesian estimation method to account for differences between classrooms a test for random coefficients. The results reveal a different pattern for a primary outgroup that is more similar to the secondary outgroup vs. a primary outgroup that is less similar to the secondary outgroup. While the contact with Turkish-origin friends improved attitudes towards the Moroccans, Dutch-origin adolescents did not adopt attitudes of Turkish-origin friends towards Moroccans. In contrast, contact with other-ethnic-origin peers did not have an effect on attitudes towards the Moroccans but attitudes of other-ethnic-origin peers towards Moroccans were adopted. These results highlight the importance of considering attitude adoption when studying the interaction between adolescents in general and intergroup contact in particular. According to our findings, intergroup contact can improve attitudes towards multiple outgroups. However, the valence of intergroup attitudes that outgroup members hold should be considered since they can be adopted by other peers. This fact is especially important to consider if there is an indication of conflict between two dissimilar social groups.

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