Beyond the optimal contact strategy: A reality check for the contact hypothesis

John Dixon, Kevin Durrheim, Colin Tredoux

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

509 Citations (Scopus)


The contact hypothesis proposes that interaction between members of different groups reduces intergroup prejudice if - and only if - certain optimal conditions are present. For over 50 years, research using this framework has explored the boundary conditions for ideal contact and has guided interventions to promote desegregation. Although supporting the contact hypothesis in principle, the authors critique some research practices that have come to dominate the field: (a) the prioritizing of the study of interactions occurring under rarefied conditions, (b) the reformulation of lay understandings of contact in terms of a generic typology of ideal dimensions, and (c) the use of shifts in personal prejudice as the primary measure of outcome. The authors argue that these practices have limited the contact hypothesis both as an explanation of the intergroup dynamics of desegregation and as a framework for promoting social psychological change. In so arguing, the authors look toward a complementary program of research on contact and desegregation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)697-711
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Contact hypothesis
  • Desegregation
  • Racism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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