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Intergroup Contact in Virtual Reality: Comparative Effects of Two Contact Strategies on Reducing Prejudice and Increasing Trust Between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland

Project description

Virtually connecting Catholics and Protestants

Virtual reality (VR) was originally designed to make video games more immersive, but the technology has spread out to a range of other industries and sectors. From the workplace to the classroom, VR may soon find a new calling in reducing intergroup conflict. It’s based on the contact hypothesis, which suggests that intergroup contact effectively reduces prejudice between majority and minority group members. The EU-funded contactVIRT project will test this hypothesis using VR technology in Northern Ireland. As Catholics and Protestants have relatively scarce contact with members outside their own group, the project will test if VR-contact promotes trust between the two groups.


Intergroup contact is widely recognised among social scientists as a means to overcome prejudice between social groups. However, contact is less likely to occur in highly segregated contexts such as the post-conflict society of Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants grow with relatively scarce contact with members outside their own group. Faced with this scenario, scholars have examined computer-mediated contact with relatively successful outcomes. Although virtual reality (VR) technologies have been less fully explored in this respect, it offers great potential for contact by way of avatar communication in a safe environment. The scarce literature in this area has associated VR interactions with empathy and trust towards outgroups. These effects derive mainly from two strategies: perspective taking (e.g. making users to adopt an outgroup avatar), and recategorisation (e.g. inducing an inclusive-superordinate identity among ingroup/outgroup members). Conversely, the mechanisms by which VR-contact may be effective are less clear as other similar studies have obtained mixed results. A potential confusion in the effects produced by avatar customization (similarity identification, embodiment), and the relevance of the primed superordinate identity (transient or lasting) for group members, seem to affect contact outcomes. This proposal has a primary objective of testing the effectiveness of VR-contact in reducing prejudice and promoting trust between members of the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland. Specifically, this research will compare the relative strengths of perspective taking versus recategorisation, evaluate the mechanisms of avatar customization, and advance a research framework of contact in VR environments for successful contact effects. Hence, this research will extend the field by producing theoretical advances in an innovative area which combines communication technologies and intergroup contact.


Net EU contribution
€ 224 933,76
BT7 1NN Belfast
United Kingdom

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Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Belfast
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 224 933,76