Contact Theory / Contact Hypothesis / Intergroup Contact

May 14, 2010

Back to the ICT Theory Connections

Theory Information

Research to challenge the hypothesis that bringing people together is simply enough (thus the name "contact hypothesis") began in the 1950’s when Allport (1956) hypothesized that several conditions were necessary for program participants to diminish their prejudice to those in other groups. These conditions were that participants must come together and have 1) equal status, 2) common goals, 3) cooperation, and 4) authority sanction for the contact. Recent meta-analysis of more than 500 studies on the contact hypothesis concludes that these conditions are supported by research (Pettigrew and Tropp 2006). Consideration must be given to who the participants are, how many there are, what is the nature of the task that they are working on together, and whether or not they have support for their efforts from the community.


A culturally diverse campus or organization is not developed simply by increasing numbers of students from various cultures. Social interactions between domestic and international students, faculty, scholars, and/or staff do not necessarily occur in a meaningful way where cross-cultural understanding and relationships actually develop.

The implications are enormous for our everyday work. Our programs need to take the findings into account that participants must be given the social and structural opportunities to interact as equals, working to achieve common goals. Planning should be intentional and proactive. Also, international educators must take an active role in what happens with participants during the education abroad experience regardless of the location of the study—U.S., China, France, etc. Programs that are "connected" to Contact theory meet one or more of the following criteria (and ideally all as Pettigrew and Tropp’s findings suggest they are interrelated):

  • Consideration of who is present, in what numbers, what is their history, and whether or not they are equals in the program.
  • Are they coming together to work on a common goal?
  • Do they have support from the broader community for this project?

Barbara Kappler Mikk and Vija G. Mendelson



Applications Linda Drake Gobbo
  • Misunderstandings arise during the planning and celebration of a French cultural evening at a college that prides itself on campus internationalization. - Case study (70kb Adobe PDF)