E-contact: Breaking Through Physical and Psychological Barriers

White, F. (University of Sydney), Verrelli, S. (University of Sydney), Maunder, R. (The University of Sydney), Harvey, L. (The University of Sydney)

Background: We live in a polarised society. Today, groups prefer to avoid the challenges of difference, and approach the safety of sameness. Such separation can result in high levels of anxiety and prejudice towards others who are not part of our group. One way to address this global problem is for social psychologists to harness the positive elements of the Internet to bridge this psychological divide. Method: The Internet can i) bring individuals into a cooperative space, who would otherwise not normally interact, and ii) dissolve the physical and psychological barriers to make contact possible in contexts of segregation. Electronic- or E-contact is one specific strategy. Developed by White and her colleagues, E-contact utilises the unique strengths of the Internet underpinned by Allport’s (1954) facilitating conditions to promote intergroup cooperation. Results: For a decade now, E-contact research has connected Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Muslim and Catholic students from segregated schools in Australia, homosexuals and heterosexuals, transgender people and gender conforming people, and people with schizophrenia and those without schizophrenia. Conclusions: The strengths and limitations of contrasting E-contact paradigms will be evaluated, and future research possibilities for integrating emerging technologies into intergroup contact paradigms, will be discussed.

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Overcoming Barriers to Intergroup Contact Symposium