Mert Peksen: Commentary on Linda Tropp’s “Contact, Trust, and Social Inclusion: Immigrant-Native Relations in the United States”

Linda Tropp – 10/27/2016

Does having more contact with other groups reduce prejudice? Do people welcome the groups with whom they interact, and do they feel more welcomed by them? Does frequency, quality and location of interactions between groups matter? Do people transfer good interaction experiences with one group to their interactions with other groups? These were the main questions that Linda Tropp, professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, addressed in her talk at the ARC seminar on October 27th. Her main focus was the topic of intergroup contact and the issue of welcoming different populations into communities, particularly in the context of the relations between US-born and immigrant groups.

Tropp began her talk by explaining some of the major concepts in her research and addressing the main questions in the literature. As she and her colleagues established in their meta-analysis of the literature, greater contact is associated with less prejudice. 94 percent of the approximately 500 international studies they analyzed show that there is an inverse correlation between interaction and prejudice. She pointed out that while most studies focus on the interaction of immigrant and US-born populations in terms of the exposure of one group to another, such studies are not clear about what actually happens when groups meet and have meaningful face-to-face interactions in neighborhoods, work places, and public spaces.

In her talk, Linda Tropp presented two major aspects of the research that she and her research team have been conducting over the last several years. In their overall research, they analyze the quality and frequency of interactions between US-born Whites, US-born Blacks, foreign-born Mexicans, and foreign-born Indians in the context of the Philadelphia and Atlanta metropolitan areas. Philadelphia and Atlanta were chosen because of their longstanding presence of Black and White American populations, while recent immigration to these areas have also diversified the racial composition. Moreover, these cities have been actively promoting the idea of being a “welcoming city” through various campaigns and civil society programs. The part of the research that she presented at the ARC specifically addressed the idea of welcoming. She asked whether increased interaction with other groups makes people more welcoming, and whether people feel more welcomed when they interact with other groups.

In order to answer these questions, the researchers designed a telephone survey using a total of 250 respondents from each group in each city (total N=2000). In addition to the telephone survey, they conducted around 320 in-depth interviews in the area.  In terms of overall contact with other groups, there is a generally positive level of interaction among groups, especially at work places and in public space. There is less overall contact with Mexicans, which implies a certain level of isolation that might be related to issues regarding the type of work they do, language barriers, or their legal status. These issues were later addressed in the Q and A section. In terms of welcoming others and being welcomed by their community, Tropp’s research illustrates that Whites and Blacks tend to be slightly more welcoming toward each other than they are to immigrant groups, whereas Mexicans are less welcoming than US-born populations, as well as than Indian immigrants, to outside groups. Overall, there is a positive correlation between the level of interaction and positive welcoming attitudes.

Another part of her presentation addressed the question of whether the quality and frequency of interactions with one group influence the attitudes toward another groups. Her research shows that there is a secondary transfer effect caused by interactions between groups. For instance, increased contact with Blacks enhances Whites’ receptivity toward other migrant groups.

Linda Tropp’s research has important implications. First, we can argue that spatial and social segregation create a less welcoming society for everyone, because they structurally decrease the possibility of contacts with other groups. Moreover, while it may seem at a first glance that groups have significant exposure to one another in public spaces, she pointed out that exposure and meaningful contact are two different things. High exposure to other groups with less meaningful interaction, in fact, might actually create more prejudice. Therefore, based on her research findings we can argue that in order to overcome prejudices between groups and to create a more inclusive society, there is a need to create more opportunities for interaction and to design spaces in which groups actually meet and get to know each other. These spaces could range from more inclusive public spaces to schools and work places that are more racially diverse.

Mert Peksen