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Reducing prejudice through cognitive intervention: mechanisms of imagined and recalled intergroup contact

Birtel, Michele Denise (2011) Reducing prejudice through cognitive intervention: mechanisms of imagined and recalled intergroup contact. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94213) (KAR id:94213)


Over 500 studies have shown that intergroup contact is an effective and robust way of reducing prejudice. Recent research has extended the power and scope of contact theory further, demonstrating that the simple act of imagining a positive intergroup encounter can promote more positive intergroup relations. In 14 experiments this thesis investigates the moderating potential and underlying mechanisms of imagined contact, and related cognitive processes associated with recalled contact experiences. The first part of the thesis establishes the compensatory power of imagined contact in mitigating the detrimental effects of high intergroup anxiety and low prior outgroup contact on intergroup attitudes, intentions and behavioural tendencies. Furthermore, individual differences in the ability to generate vivid mental images moderate the effectiveness of the approach. In the second part I draw upon established principles in psychotherapy. Imagining a negative contact experience with an outgroup member before a positive one resulted in larger reductions in intergroup anxiety, and stronger future contact intentions, than two positive contact experiences. In the third part I extend the imagined contact research to the domains of memory and cognition. Recall of a positive contact experience enhanced positive outgroup evaluations and contact self-efficacy via reduced anxiety. Consistent with the ease-of-retrieval effect, recalling a larger number of contact memories was more difficult for individuals low in prior outgroup contact, leading to lower contact self-efficacy, whereas this was not the case for participants who had had high levels of prior outgroup contact. I conclude that cognitive interventions, especially those that make use of mental imagery and its special link to emotions, are highly valuable techniques for educators and policy makers in preparing individuals for direct contact, increasing the likelihood of achieving longlasting harmony in intergroup relations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94213
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2023 13:39 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2023 13:39 UTC
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