Negative intergroup contact makes group memberships salient: Explaining why intergroup conflict endures

Stefania Paolini, Jake Harwood, Mark Rubin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

294 Scopus citations


Drawing from the intergroup contact model and self-categorization theory, the authors advanced the novel hypothesis of a valence-salience effect, whereby negative contact causes higher category salience than positive contact. As predicted, in a laboratory experiment of interethnic contact, White Australians (N = 49) made more frequent and earlier reference to ethnicity when describing their ethnic contact partner if she had displayed negative (vs. positive, neutral) nonverbal behavior. In a two-wave experimental study of retrieved intergenerational contact, American young adults (N = 240) reported age to be more salient during negative (vs. positive) contact and negative contact predicted increased episodic and chronic category salience over time. Some evidence for the reverse salience-valence effect was also found. Because category salience facilitates contact generalization, these results suggest that intergroup contact is potentially biased toward worsening intergroup relations; further implications for theory and policy making are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1723-1738
Number of pages16
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010


  • category salience
  • intergroup contact
  • intergroup relations
  • prejudice
  • quality of contact
  • self-categorization theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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