What will the others think? In-group norms as a mediator of the effects of intergroup contact.Br J Soc Psychol 2010; 49(Pt 3):507-23BJ
The influence of social norms in the context of intergroup relations has long been recognized by social psychologists, yet research on intergroup contact and social norms have usually remained disconnected. We explored the influence of direct and indirect friendship on attitudes towards ethnic minorities in Norway, and in particular the role of in-group norms about the social approval of intergroup contact as a mechanism that distinguishes direct from indirect contact. Using a sample of school students from 89 classrooms (N=823), we tested this hypothesis with both one level and multi-level structural equation modelling (ML-SEM), where the amount of contact of other classroom members was considered as a form of indirect contact. The results suggest that the intergroup contact of other in-group members (in-group friends or classmates) affects attitudes towards the out-group by changing the perception of in-group norms and by reducing intergroup anxiety. In contrast, direct contact (or contact at the individual level in the case of ML-SEM), improved attitudes only by reducing intergroup anxiety, and did not affect the perception of in-group norms.