Investigating Social Contact: What Can Agent-Based Modelling Tell Us?

We present two simulation studies that are used to investigate intergroup relations, and specifically the effects of social contact on group membership. In the first study, we explore the implications of a self-fulfilling prophecy-based explanation for persistent stigmatisation (i.e., negative attitudes over time), using the De-stigmatisation Simulation (DSIM) model. Within this context, the interactions between a stigmatised minority group and a non-stigmatised majority group are simulated, with the aim of better understanding the psychological mechanisms that underlie the process of becoming less stigmatised. Results from a series of simulations are consistent with Allport's (1954) 'contact hypothesis'. According to the original theory stigma reduction would only occur when several 'optimal conditions' were met, these being equal status, cooperation, common goals and the support of authorities recognised by both groups. Further evidence collected over the last five decades shows that the optimal conditions reinforce the effects of contact as opposed to providing preconditions (see Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). DSIM replicates these findings, but also uniquely shows the difference between factors impacts on how much stigmatisation can be reduced (equal status and authority sanctions) and also how quickly this happens (cooperation and common goals). In the second study, we build on the results of the first one, and examine the role of perceived ingroup rejection - or sense that one’s own peers are socially non-accepting - in intragroup dynamics using the Ingroup Rejection Model (IRM). Here, we explore questions such as ‘how’ and ‘when’ negative intragroup interactions help to regulate the size of stigmatised social groups. IRM identifies various conditions under which a social group might gain or lose members (e.g. Hill & Dunbar, 2002). Findings show that in most cases, new members are drawn from agents that were socially connected to the original group members, preventing the group from performing any large scale expansions. Taken together, both studies demonstrate relationships between existing psychological theories. That is, the DSIM relates self-fulfilling prophecy literature to the contact effect, and the IRM relates conformity and social identity theories to group behaviour and the social networking literature, thereby demonstrating the power of ABM approaches in enriching theories based on more traditional research methods.

Tuesday, 7 December, 2010 - 12:30 to 14:00
Julie Christian