|dc.description.abstract||The modern world offers increased connectivity and multiculturism. In this connected world, individuals are frequently granted the opportunity to interact with others from distinct social, ethnic, and religious groups in everyday life. A large body of research suggests that intergroup contact across distinct groups will reduce prejudices and intergroup biases. However, despite the increased opportunity for prejudice- reducing intergroup contact, prejudices remain high in multicultural societies. In exploring this apparent contradiction, recent research suggests that, despite increased opportunities for intergroup contact, many people selectively interact with members from their ingroup. Thus, intergroup avoidance can impede progress in social cohesion and intergroup harmony by preventing beneficial encounters taking place.
Previous research has found intergroup anxiety, or the expectation that outgroup members pose a threat to an individual and their ingroup, is strongly and reliably linked to avoidant behaviours. In turn, the most efficacious way to reduce anxiety is through intergroup contact. The problem of intergroup avoidance is therefore circular, where the best way to reduce avoidance is to promote approach behaviours by those who are avoidant. Reducing intergroup anxiety using techniques more likely to be engaged with could interrupt this circular problem, thereby reducing intergroup avoidance.
This thesis comprises two theoretical reviews, one systematic review (k = 72), four survey-based studies (N = 2,095) and one experiment (N = 82), that collectively seek to further our understanding of, and provide viable remedies for intergroup anxiety and avoidance to enhance intergroup relations. More specifically, the thesis aims to (1) integrate associative learning and social psychological theories to explain the formation of intergroup anxiety, (2) understand how intergroup anxiety can contribute to a deterioration in intergroup relations, through intergroup avoidance, and; (3) provide an acceptable form of intergroup contact using virtual reality technology.
The initial theoretical and empirical work advanced understanding of the formation, measurement, and outcomes of intergroup anxiety. It was argued that intergroup and clinical anxiety share similar properties and are formed through the same processes. Aversive conditioning processes have been observed in the laboratory and used to explain the formation of clinical anxiety. More recently, these same processes have been shown to contribute to intergroup anxiety. To measure intergroup anxiety in this thesis, a new self-report scale was created that integrated common laboratory markers of anxiety (physiological reactivity) with typical self-report inventories. In three studies, the construct and convergent validity of the Cognitive, Affective, and Physiological Intergroup Anxiety (CAP-IA) scale was supported. This new scale could also be utilised in future research.
To test the proposition that aversive conditioning processes contribute to intergroup anxiety, a retrospective method was used where participants described their first negative encounter with an outgroup member. Congruent with aversive conditioning processes, participants who reported an unpleasant event with an outgroup member reported more fear during the encounter than did those who did not report experiencing an unpleasant event. Additionally, intergroup fear indirectly predicted greater outgroup avoidance through elevated intergroup anxiety. These results showed that aversive conditioning can contribute to the formation of intergroup anxiety outside the laboratory.
Subsequent work attempted to develop an accepted and efficacious form of indirect intergroup contact using virtual reality. In a theoretical review, I advanced a temporal model of acceptability for contact-based interventions, which argued that individuals would prefer institutionally supported and indirect intergroup contact, thereby making intergroup avoidance less likely. All forms of indirect contact were argued to have these benefits, but virtual reality intergroup contact (VRIC) was introduced as a novel indirect contact strategy because it could offer distinct benefits over existing indirect contact strategies, including increased interactivity and presence. Survey-based studies were conducted to examine the acceptability of VRIC and did not provide clear evidence that individuals would rather engage in VRIC than face-to-face intergroup contact. Furthermore, the final experimental study of this thesis did not find brief exposure to outgroup members through immersive media improved intergroup relations. Nevertheless, this work was the first to empirically assess the acceptability of an indirect contact strategy and demonstrated that immersive virtual exposure to outgroup members elicits greater physiological responses than static-images of the same.
Taken together, the findings from the current thesis provide a novel investigation of the formation of intergroup anxiety and avoidance from a learning perspective. Furthermore, the thesis provides several approaches to reduce intergroup avoidance. These include decreasing intergroup anxiety, providing institutionally supported interventions, and offering indirect contact strategies for individuals high in intergroup anxiety. The continuing levels of prejudice around the world provide an impetus to break down barriers preventing positive and intimate interactions between members of distinct groups. By examining how intergroup avoidance is formed and reduced, this body of work provides new avenues for researchers and interventionists to work toward decreased segregation and greater intergroup harmony.||