Beware of ‘reducing prejudice’: Imagined contact may backfire if applied with a prevention focus.
Imagined intergroup contact – the mental simulation of a (positive) interaction with a member of another group – is a recently developed, low-risk, prejudice-reducing intervention. However, regulatory focus can moderate of the effects of prejudice-reducing interventions: a prevention focus (as opposed to a promotion focus) can lead to more negative outcomes. In two experiments we found that a prevention focus altered imagined contact’s effects, causing the intervention to backfire. In Experiment 1, participants who reported a strong prevention-focus during imagined contact subsequently reported higher intergroup anxiety and (indirectly) less positive attitudes toward Asians. We found similar moderating effects in Experiment 2, using a different outgroup (gay men) and a subtle regulatory focus manipulation. Theoretical and practical implications for imagined contact are discussed.
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