Reducing prejudice via mediated contact with immigrants - Proposal for an experimental study
Proposal for an experimental study:
Reducing prejudice via mediated contact with immigrants
2nd semester 2009/2010
Experimentation in the Social Sciences
Lecturer: Dr. Sandra Zwier
March 4, 2010
Communication Science (Research MSc)
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
University of Amsterdam
Table of contents
EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN AND CONDITIONS.............................................................................................................................4
Looking at the political agenda of many parties, talking with the man in the street and reading
the newspapers, make it clear that problems with immigrants are amongst the biggest issues in
contemporary Dutch society, but also in many other countries. Conflicts between various
ethnic groups, poor integration and troubles caused by second or third generation immigrant
youngsters are examples. In political campaigns, these issues are spearheads about which
parties vary widely and no ready solution seems obvious. As a consequence, communities
seem to lose cohesion er and irritations increase. A necessary condition to solve this problem
seems to be, next to the willingness of immigrants to integrate, that the autochthonous
majority will be tolerant for other cultures and need therefore to reduce their prejudices. The
different groups can then adjust to each other and overcome the problems that stem from a
lack of understanding the other.
However, it is of course difficult to achieve this, especially when people already have
bad experiences or negative attitudes with regard to immigrants. The goal of this research is to
find one or several ways that make people from the majority group, less prejudiced and more
open to this group of foreigners in Dutch society. Earlier research already showed that contact
between different groups improved intergroup relations and attitudes (Pettigrew, 1998;
Pettigrew & Trop, 2000). In a region where many foreigners live, people seem to be on
average less prejudiced toward this minority group, than in regions with few immigrants
(Wagner, Van Dick, Pettigrew & Christ, 2003). Besides contact with the other group, it seems
recommendable to have a common goal when one wants to reduce prejudice (Aronson,
Wilson & Akert, 2005; Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood & Sherif, 1961).
These studies were all done with real-life contacts as manipulation; however, it can be
imagined that there are many other ways by which people can encounter the other nowadays.
Various kinds of mediated contact will be studied, and therefore used as an experimental
condition, because it is in some situations difficult or even impossible to have contact via real-
life situations. People might for example live in highly segregated neighbourhoods, go to
schools where they only meet people of their own ethnicity and the same is the case for sport
clubs. In addition, it might be that due to parental authority or religious matters contact with
the other group is avoided. Via mediated contacts, it might be much easier to enter the life of
someone else and this can perhaps, just as real-life contact, also help to take away borders
Traditional media bring us in contact with all kinds of images and stories, while the
new media make it possible to interact with others you may not even know and without being
in the same physical setting. How this affects the ideas people have of another group is
unknown. The purpose of this research is to see if contacts via such media can reduce the
prejudices people have, just as real-life contacts appeared to do and how strong these effects
possibly are. The research question is therefore the following: To what extent do various
kinds of mediated contact with immigrants reduce prejudice of people from the
Every medium has certain characteristics that have boosting or limiting consequences
for effects of a message (Bronner, 2006). Audiovisual media, like television or
communicating via a webcam, for example have the strength that they catch attention and can
arouse feelings more easily than static media with texts only, like print media. Those however
have the strength that they communicate complex information better, because people can take
the time that is necessary to understand a message, while in audiovisual media the tempo of
the message is paced by the medium (Bronner & Neijens, 2006). To reduce prejudice it seems
especially important to arouse certain positive feelings.
Another characteristic that media can have or not is if they allow interactivity. It is
expected that the effects of interactive media are stronger than effects of media that do not
allow people to participate in some activity (De Boer & Brennecke, 2003). The reason for this
is that interactivity also has a positive influence on attention and more important, it will make
people feel more involved. Following the literature, the hypotheses that will be tested in this
H1: Any kind of mediated contact with a group of immigrants will reduce prejudiced
behaviour and attitudes toward immigrants.
H2: Contact with the group of immigrants via interactive media will reduce prejudiced
behaviour and attitudes stronger, than contacts via non-interactive media.
H3: Contacts with the group of immigrants via audiovisual media will reduce prejudiced
behaviour and attitudes stronger, than contacts via media that are static (without
sounds and moving images).
This study will improve knowledge about the extent to which different media can change both
prejudiced attitudes and behaviour and how these media can be compared to each other. For
commercial purposes, these effects have been studied several times already, but not for a
public purpose such as reducing prejudice; it could be that media characteristics are impacting
commercial decision processes in a different manner than they are impacting attitudes and
behaviour toward immigrants. Having this knowledge could ultimately lead to new plans for
reducing polarisation in nowadays society between autochthonous Dutch people and
This study makes use of a between-subjects design with repeated-measures. Four
experimental conditions are planned and one control group is present. All groups will finally
be tested on two concepts that both cover an aspect of prejudice. A between-subjects design is
chosen, because the main interest of the study is to learn what the effect of the various media
is, not how this works out in combination with other media. This between-subjects design
permits to make comparisons between the different groups, so an ANOVA can show what the
effects of the different manipulations are. Because a control group is part of the experiment
and participants are assigned randomly to the groups, a comparison can also be made with
conditions in which no manipulation at all occurred (no contact with an immigrant) and if this
differs significantly from the various treatment groups.
Repeated measures are chosen for the reason that the effects on attitude and behaviour
are very interesting; both could have some important consequences in reality. Furthermore, in
experiments it is often difficult to find significant differences in behaviour caused by a
manipulation. Attitudes and behaviour do not always have a straightforward relation, for
example when deliberative behaviour is expected and people have enough time to think
(Aronson et al., 2005). This can for instance be the case in choosing a fountain pen and a
change in behaviour might not be observed, while attitudes did change. When this is the case
here, these effects can be revealed by possible significant results in changes of attitude. On
the other hand is it also possible that, differences in attitudes are not found, because people
give social desirable answers on questions, while their behaviour might still show prejudice,
because people do not see or expect this to be a measurement.
Everyone could possibly have prejudices, no one excluded, although the extent can differ per
person. This study therefore does not seem to require a specific group of participants, which
makes it possible to recruit a broad range of people from the Dutch society, preferably a
sample that is representative for the Dutch population. However the choice is to recruit only
people of sixteen years and older, because they seem to have more developed ideas of the
world and other people (including immigrants) than younger ones, and from about this age
onwards problems of conflict between autochthonous and allochthonous groups might start.
Because the experiment involves four manipulated groups and one control group, and
the target is to have at least 50 participants in one group, it will be necessary to recruit 250
people. Those will be selected by a random sample of telephone numbers. People are
randomly called and asked if the member in their household who has the soonest birthday,
wants to participate in the research project. By asking for the person with the soonest
birthday, no misrepresentation in the sample comes about, because otherwise only people who
pick up the phone in a household are recruited. The person furthermore needs to have a
computer with internet connection at his disposal and to be at least sixteen years old. If people
agree to participate, they are asked for their e-mail address and will be told that they will
receive an invitation soon.
When participants indicate that they want to participate, they will receive an e-mail at their
private e-mail address, in which they are invited again to participate in the research project
and will be explained once more what they will receive in exchange for participating; a
fountain pen, worth 20 Euro. A link will be added, which leads them to the research website.
On this website, all other things will take place that are of importance for the study.
Participants can thus stay at home, which means that not much effort is required of them and
this will make it more likely that the group of people described above, want to participate.
Only those that do not have an internet connection or computer will be excluded on practical
grounds. The others can participate, but if they do, depends on their own motivation.
A computer randomly assigns participants to an experimental condition or control
condition in which the participants end up; the different groups can therefore be assumed to
be equal, except for the experimental treatment. The participants will first be confronted with
a manipulation; do a puzzle together with an immigrant, see a video or read an article. Then
the measures of the dependent variables are done. Participants are led to the section where
they can choose a fountain pen, first. Then they are asked to fill in a questionnaire. This order
is used, because any possible (priming) effects of the questionnaire cannot influence the
choice of a pen. Finally, participants are thanked and told that the fountain pen will be sent to
them as soon as possible.
Experimental design and conditions
Participants can be assigned to one out of four different experimental conditions or to none
when they are assigned to the control group; in total there are five groups. All manipulations
belonging to a certain experimental condition have one characteristic in common: the
participant or an autochthonous actor and an allochthonous person (an actor) have a common
goal. Nevertheless, all groups are just using one specific medium, with particular
characteristics. The four different media can be divided in either making interaction possible
or not, and if they transmit audiovisual or static information. Briefly, there are two factors
specific for a group: if a medium is interactive or not; and if it is audiovisual or static.
Because for those groups two measures of prejudice are employed this design can be said to
be a 2 (audiovisual aids: audiovisual vs. static) x 2 between-subjects (medium interactivity:
interactive vs. non-interactive) x 2 repeated-measures (attitudes and behaviour) design with a
Attitudes toward immigrants (Measure 1)
Chat with webcam Chat without webcam
(Group 1) (Group 2)
(Group 3) (Group 4)
Behaviour toward immigrants (Measure 2)
Chat with webcam Chat without webcam
(Group 1) (Group 2)
(Group 3) (Group 4)
Figure 1: The 2 x 2 between subjects design with two measures that will be used for this study. The control
group (Group 5) is not depicted in this model.
The people in the first group are asked to solve a problem, together with someone who is also
online, ‘coincidentally’. They are brought in contact with each other by a messaging service,
like MSN. The other person will be shown in a messenger window and his webcam will be
activated, so the participant can see and hear him via a live video and audio stream. The
participant can communicate with and respond to him by writing sentences, as in a normal
chat. The other person, an actor that will be hired, always responds via his webcam. The actor
will be a person, who can clearly be identified as someone from a North-African origin, and
his name, that is part of the messenger window, also clearly refers to this. A North-African
origin is chosen, because Moroccans (with a North-African origin) are a group in Dutch
society that people have prejudiced beliefs about. The problem they have to solve, a common
goal, is a crossword puzzle, without any questions related to ethnicity or political issues. The
participants are told that the couple that solves this puzzle correctly the quickest, will win a
cash prize. The actor, who already knows the answers, will be helpful in generating the
answers for the puzzle and on his webcam it will be visible that he is really concentrating on it
(for example by checking a dictionary or an encyclopaedia). When the puzzle is solved, the
actor thanks the participant for his cooperation and the messenger window will be closed.
The second condition is almost the same, however this time no audiovisual content is
used, because the webcam is turned off. Again, participants are asked to solve the same
puzzle with a person that is ‘coincidentally’ online, the actor. They have to communicate now
via written chat messages only, because the webcam is turned off. The participant therefore
only received written texts. In the messenger window, only the (same) name and a photo of
the same actor are shown. His behaviour will be just as helpful in solving the same crossword
puzzle as in the first group. The only difference is thus the lack of audiovisual content that is
replaced by written messages. Instead of chatting, also e-mails or forum replies could be
chosen, because those media have the same characteristics. However, it is expected that
people do not use these media to interact with each other in a quick way and having some
longer period between sending of messages is more regular.
In the third condition, the interactive aspect of the communication disappears, but the
audiovisual element returns. Now a one-to-many medium will be used instead of the
interactive one-to-one medium of chatting. A video will be shown of a television program at
the full screen of the computer. This television program is a scene of the quiz ‘Tien voor Taal’
(translated: A for Language). For this research, a scene will be shot with the original hostess
in the original setting, so participants will not become suspicious. The competitive team in the
quiz that will be shown, consists of the same actor with a North-African origin and the same
(mentioned) name as the one that will be used in the chats, and of an autochthonous Dutch
man, who will be easily identified as such because of his appearance and name. Both actors
will work together effectively and friendly and come up with the right answers on the same
questions as those that are posed in the crossword puzzle of the previous described
In the final experimental condition, people have to read a newspaper article about the
scene of the program described above, so besides the interactive aspects also the audiovisual
elements are missing and static information remains. The article is written in the same style as
can be found in the part of newspapers where programs broadcasted that day are described
and where reviews of programs are usual. However, the article is written rather factually and
without a clear opinion; it describes the successful cooperation of the two actors (with
different origins, made clear by their names). A photo is added to the article, which shows the
two actors cheer together after answering a question correctly. Both their names are
mentioned and it will be clear they worked together successfully toward a common goal.
Finally, the control group will not be exposed to an experimental condition, so that the
groups which are exposed to a manipulation can be compared to this group. The web browser
leads them directly to the part where the dependent variables are measured.
If the manipulations in the different experimental conditions work will be checked at
the end of the questionnaire that is used to measure the dependent variables. Participants will
be asked if they worked together with an allochthonous person, or saw or read about an
allochthonous person working together with an autochthonous person; and if they had a
The first dependent variable that will be measured is how prejudiced participants behave after
being in contact with an immigrant via the different media, or not having a contact for those
in the control group. Behaviour will be measured by the choice of the reward people receive
for participating. As written before, people will be rewarded with a fountain pen; however
they have to choose one themselves. People are told that they can order their pen at
Marktplaats.nl; and that two sellers are selected for them. Also it is made clear that these
sellers only have new pens, not second-hand, because some people may think that on such
websites only second-hand stuff can be bought, which is not true. Both sites are shown and
then the participant has to make a choice which pen he wants to order. The two different
fountain pens differ very slightly on their looks and their described features. However, it is
also shown who the seller of the pen is, because the website has a clear spot for the name of
the seller. One of the sellers has a typical Moroccan name, while the other has a typical Dutch
name. It is randomly chosen which name is placed at which pen, and the order in which the
websites are shown. In a normal situation, both sellers will sell 50% of the pens, because
differences in the websites are randomly changed. When the sale ratio is not 50-50 between
the sellers, this must have something to do with the names of the persons and therefore likely
with prejudice, because besides the names all other differences are randomized. It is
interesting to see what changes in the sale ratio, when a foreign and Dutch name are used and
how participants are affected by their treatments, compared with the control group that did not
receive any treatment.
The other dependent variable ‘attitude’ will be measured with a questionnaire. A lot of
questions and statements are asked about all kinds of political issues, so it is not clear for
participants what the goal of the study is. However, some questions are used to measure the
prejudices of participants. Therefore, the same statements as Wagner, Christ, Pettigrew,
Stellmacher and Wolf (2006) used, will be included in the questionnaire. The reason for this
is that it allows that results can be compared with this study. Furthermore, this article is
written by some big names in this field of study, what makes it plausible that the questions are
a good measure for the concept of prejudice and results can be compared with many more
other studies probably. The questions are however changed slightly so they fit for the Dutch
situation. The statements that participants will answer on a 4-point scale (disagree – agree) are
• There are too many foreigners living in The Netherlands.
• When jobs get scarce, the foreigners living in The Netherlands should be sent home.
• Foreigners enrich the Dutch culture. (Reverse coded)
• Foreigners occupy jobs that Dutch people should have.
• The foreigners who live in The Netherlands are a burden on the social welfare system.
• I like it or would like it to have foreigners as neighbours. (Reverse coded)
• Foreigners living in The Netherlands should choose to marry people of their own
Two statements are added that also seem to be necessary to measure prejudiced attitudes:
• Immigrants form a threat for the prosperity in The Netherlands:
• Immigrants form a threat for the safety in The Netherlands.
The choice of the fountain pen and those statements are done only after participants are
exposed to the experimental treatments, not before, so this experiment involves a post-test
only. No pre-test will be used in this study, because that might give participants already a clue
what the research is about; reactance could probably occur. A pre-test is also not necessary in
the study, because the randomly assigned control group would generate similar results, as a
pre-test would give.
In the questionnaire, some other variables are measured also. This is important so that they
can be controlled for during analysis, to prevent them from being confounding (Frank, 2000).
The control variables are: age; sex; people’s own origin (race); level of education; political
preference; if people lived in an area with many immigrants (on basis of their postcode); if
people work in a company with foreigners; if and how many foreign friends or members of
family they have; and if, how often and what kind of inconveniences they had, caused by
The internal validity of this research seems to be high. The manipulations only seem to differ
on the kind of message they receive and what medium was used to transmit this message.
These are the differences that the study wants to focus on, so that forms no problem. Besides,
the experiment makes it possible to control for many factors. As a result it will be very likely
that differences in results are the consequence of the treatment to which a participant is
However it is not very easy to generalize the results to social reality; the study is not
very ecologically valid, just as many experiments are not. It is not very comparable to real-life
situations, because people are forced into some manipulated action and television programs
and newspaper articles are shown on a computer screen. However, the results will give clear
indications of the effects that various media may have on prejudice. Yet, in real-life situations
it is not very likely that a mediated contact happens only once. With this design, it is not
possible to analyze what happens, when people are confronted multiple times with some sort
of contact. It will also remain unclear how long possible effects endure. The external validity
of the group participants however will be rather good, because the target was to get a
representative sample of the Dutch population of sixteen years and older and there do not
seem to be large problems in realizing this.
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