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Reporting period: 2018-12-01 to 2020-11-30

Cultural diversity is one of the most engrossing and perplexing intergroup phenomena in the contemporary Western world, with social cohesion and the mutual acceptance of different groups being promoted as major goals by social psychologists and policy-makers for culturally diverse societies, such as the UK. Worryingly, recent research reports a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK. Anti-Muslim sentiment and behaviours may ultimately lead to social segregation and undermine the social inclusion of Muslims in the UK, eventually destabilising social relations between British Muslims and White British people. While there are no simplistic solutions to alleviating these societal problems, there is nevertheless a need to safeguard Britain’s multicultural values and provide applied cultural-social psychologists and educators with a way forward that fosters the required cultural skills in Muslims and Anglo-Britons to endorse Integrationist views and develop into multicultural citizens. Any potentially impactful intervention needs to be theory-driven. The theoretical work of this project integrates tenets of Acculturation Theory and Intergroup Contact Theory.
The study: i) develops an indirect intercultural contact strategy intended to promote endorsement of an Integration orientation among British Muslim and White British youths through an intervention bringing about vicarious intercultural contact. This form of contact defines a situation whereby one observes, or is made aware of, a positive interaction between ingroup and outgroup members and can be achieved through different means – for instance, by story-reading or through audio-visual media, such as listening to, or observing, intergroup interactions via radio- and video- casts; ii) applies an experimental design that evaluates the effects of the intervention on respondents’ intergroup anxiety, intergroup emotions, inclusion of the others in the self, perceived group norms, and intergroup attitudes; and iii) assesses whether the latter variables mediate the intervention’s effects on intergroup attitudes. Refer to Figure 1 for the conceptual model guiding the study.
To fulfil the study objectives, a comprehensive literature review was completed in the first few months of the study. This helped develop the right intervention contents (vicarious contact promoting integration views) and the study measures in the next few months. Then Ethics Clearance was obtained from The Sciences & Technology Cross-Schools Research Ethics Committee, University of Sussex. Subsequently, a sufficiently large sample comprised 379 youths was recruited for this study. Of the total participating youths, 172 were British Muslim and 207 White British youths (aged between 18 and 21 years). The study was conducted online via the Qualtrics platform, and respondents were randomly allocated to conditions, resulting in half being in the experimental condition which involved an episode of vicarious intercultural contact designed to facilitate Integration endorsement through stories prepared and written by an expert story writer. Participants were required after reading each story to reflect on the interaction it narrated before they could move to the next stage in the study. Respondents in the Control condition read two short stories (one page each), made up of neutral content not connected to Muslim or White British cultures, and they were then required to answer reflection questions.
Youths in both conditions, were required to respond to similar post-test measures addressing intergroup attitudes including: the outgroup feeling thermometer, Intended contact behavioural intentions toward the outgroup, Importance of future contact with the outgroup, Intergroup anxiety, Intergroup emotions, Perceived ingroup/outgroup norms, and Inclusion of the others in the self (IOS).
All data analyses were conducted using IBM SPSS 25 and SAS 9.4 statistical software packages. A series of Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA), 2 Way ANOVAs, and Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) was carried out.
Study results showed that the vicarious contact intervention promoting integration significantly reduced respondents’ intergroup anxiety, and negative emotions, compared to the Control condition, and increased their scores on positive emotions, IOS, on the outgroup feeling thermometer, in their behavioural intentions toward the outgroup, and in the importance they placed on future contact with the outgroup. All of these intervention effects were only significant in the Muslim group and were moderate in size (Table 1) and no gender differences were observed. The intervention did not have any impact on White British youths’ intergroup attitude scores. In support of the conceptual model guiding the study, results showed that the intervention improved Muslim respondents’ outgroup thermometer scores, their behavioural intentions towards the outgroup, and the importance they place on future contact with the outgroup by reducing their negative emotions (and anxiety) and increasing their positive emotions towards the outgroup. The increase in respondents’ IOS attributed to the intervention also mediated the intervention effects on outgroup outcome measures.
The findings of this study part were submitted in the form of an original research paper to a very respectful social psychology journals (Group Processes & Intergroup Relations), and is currently under review. Sections of the study were presented to academic and non-academic audiences in the past two years, and will also continue to be presented at scientific conferences in the near future.
Beyond the study aspects presented above, a further follow up was carried out to explain why the previous intervention did not work for the White British youths. Two extra Experimental conditions were recruited, each comprised about 100 youths from each group (Muslim, White British), and who went through a new set of vicarious contact sessions (promoting integration) that address the possible limitation of the previous set up. We are yet to prepare the data for analyses and summarise the findings. We expect to submit a further research paper out of this project to a high impact social/cultural psychology journal in the near future, and also to present the full study findings at various academic (e.g. conferences, research seminars) and non-academic (e.g. societies, associations interested in multiculturalism) platforms.
We expect the project to: 1. provide applied cultural-social psychologists and educators with a way forward that fosters the required cultural skills in Muslims and Anglo-Britons to develop into multicultural citizens through vicarious contact. Vicarious contact can reach more people, and be easier and more practicable to implement in relatively segregated communities; 2. given that promoting social cohesion and harmony between various groups are major goals for social psychologists and policy-makers, our study results are likely to attract the attention of acculturation and contact theorists and also policy-makers; and lastly, 3. by disseminating the findings through various research seminars, workshops, conferences, research papers, and community talks, this project has the potential to bring together scholars, policymakers, and community figures with shared interests to work on the promotion of multiculturalism.