Can Social Contact Reduce Prejudice and Discrimination? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Nigeria
by Alexandra Scacco, WZB Berlin Social Science Center and Shana S. Warren, New York University
Can positive social contact between members of antagonistic groups reduce prejudice and discrimination? Despite extensive research on social contact, observational studies are difficult to interpret, because prejudiced people may select out of contact with out-group members. We overcome this problem by conducting an education-based, randomized field experiment—the Urban Youth Vocational Training program (UYVT)—with 849 randomly sampled Christian and Muslim young men in riot-prone Kaduna, Nigeria. After 16 weeks of positive intergroup social contact, we find no changes in prejudice, but subjects in heterogeneous classes discriminate significantly less against out-group members than those in homogeneous classes. We trace this finding to increased discrimination by homogeneous-class subjects compared to non-UYVT study participants, and we highlight potentially negative consequences of in-group social contact. By focusing on skill-building instead of peace messaging, our intervention minimizes reporting bias and offers strong experimental evidence that intergroup social contact can alter behavior in constructive ways, even amid violent conflict.