The Imagined Contact Hypothesis

Abstract Imagined intergroup contact (Crisp & Turner, 2009) is a new indirect contact strategy for promoting tolerance and more positive intergroup relations. Research has shown that mentally simulating a positive interaction with an outgroup member can elicit more favorable explicit and implicit outgroup attitudes, less stereotyping, and enhance intentions to engage in future contact. This review documents the range of benefits that accrue from imagined contact, the processes through which it operates, and the conditions that limit or enhance its effectiveness. Studies have shown when, how, and why imagining contact reduces prejudice against a range of different target groups, and how it can be integrated with existing contact-based approaches to provide maximally effective strategies for improving intergroup relations. The approach is not without its critics, and this review addresses the controversies and debates stimulated by imagined contact theory and research. The review concludes with a discussion of the value that imagery techniques can bring to implementations of contact theory, and how the approach offers a new, flexible, and effective tool for practitioners and policy makers in their efforts to promote, encourage, and enhance more harmonious intergroup relations.

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