Reading is a way for us to imagine experiences we might never have, but do these imagined experiences affect us in a similar way to real experiences? One way to reduce prejudice is to meet people from other social groups. But what about imagining similar interactions? Is this as effective as actually meeting someone?
Researchers at La Trobe University in Australia (Michael Giacobbe, Arthur Stukas, and John Farhall) decided to ask this question with respect to individuals with schizophrenia. Participants were randomly assigned to have either a real or imagined interaction with an individual diagnosed with schizophrenia, or a well-matched control person without schizophrenia. For the imagined conditions, participants listened to scripts based on actual interactions from the in-person conditions and then imagined as best they could the rest of the experience. Interactions in each condition lasted approximately 15 minutes.
After the imagined or actual experiences, researchers measured whether participant attitudes toward individuals with schizophrenia changed. Those who interacted with the schizophrenic individual exhibited more positive attitudes towards people with schizophrenia compared to those who interacted with the control confederate. Most importantly, the imagined and in-person interactions appeared to be equally effective in improving attitudes.
This study offers preliminary evidence that imagining an interaction can reduce prejudice toward stigmatized groups just as effectively as actual in-person interactions. In light of this, narrative fiction and the structured imagination it provides might be a helpful tool for combatting prejudice. Finally, this study raises additional questions regarding the effect of imagined interactions on reducing prejudice. How long do the effects last? Can these effects be strengthened through repeated imagined contact? What kinds of people might benefit the most from imagined contact? The fascinating results of this study will hopefully inspire further work along these lines.
Giacobbe, M. R., Stukas, A. A., & Farhall, J. (2013). The effects of imagined versus actual contact with a person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Basic and Applied Social Psychology,
35(3), 265-271. doi: 10.1080/01973533.2013.785403
* For a copy of this article, please contact R. Mar (e-mail in About section).
Post by Graham McCreath
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