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Life Span and Disability XVII, 1 (2014), 39-57
Imagined contact favors humanization of individuals
with intellectual disabilities: a two-wave study
Rossella Falvo1, Dora Capozza2, Zira Hichy3 & Annamaria Di Sipio4
The aim of the current study was to test the effectiveness of imagined contact – a mental simulation of a social encounter with an outgroup member
– in improving humanity perceptions of individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID). A longitudinal study was conducted, examining non-disabled
adults. Humanity perceptions were assessed by using uniquely human and
non-uniquely human emotions. Results showed that a not fully human status was ascribed to people with intellectual disabilities. Imagined contact,
however, reduced the humanity bias. Moreover, the positive influence of
imagined contact was revealed also after one month, thus providing evidence of a long-term impact. Practical implications of results are discussed.
Keywords: Imagined contact; Individuals with ID; Humanity attributions;
Primary and secondary emotions; longitudinal effects.
Received: November 19, 2013, Revised: February 14, 2014, Accepted: February 20, 2014.
© 2014 Associazione Oasi Maria SS. - IRCCS
Department FISPPA, Section of Applied Psychology, University of Padova, Italy. E-mail: [email protected]
Department FISPPA, Section of Applied Psychology, University of Padova, Italy. E-mail: [email protected]
Department of Educational Science, University of Catania, Italy. E-mail: [email protected]
Department FISPPA, Section of Applied Psychology, University of Padova, Italy. E-mail:[email protected]
This research was supported by grant CPDA099198/09 from the University of Padova.
We wish to thank Jonida Kazazi and Agnese Pennati for their help in collecting and coding data for this
Correspondence to: Rossella Falvo, Department FISPPA, Section of Applied Psychology, University of
Padova, Via Venezia 8, 35131, Padova (Italy); tel. +390498276624; fax +390498276600; email: rossella
[email protected]
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1. Introduction
In this paper, we present a study aimed at investigating whether imagined
contact (Crisp & Turner, 2012) – a mental simulation of an encounter with an
outgroup member – may ameliorate humanness attributions to people with intellectual disabilities (ID).
Intellectually disabled: A stigmatized group
The participation of persons with disabilities, including those with ID, in
the educational system, work, and community activities is strongly recommended by international social policies and legislations, which stress the importance of favoring the access of the disabled to all domains of public life (see,
e.g., the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, United Nations,
2006; The World Declaration on Education for All, UNESCO, 1990). Even
so, individuals with ID still represent a stigmatized group, and face prejudice,
negative stereotypes, and discrimination, which hinder acceptance and inclusion (see, e.g., Werner, Corrigan, Ditchman, & Sokol, 2012). People with ID
are avoided, disregarded, and teased (Pratt, 2010); they are stereotyped as aggressive (Slevin & Sines, 1996; see also Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998), and
without perspectives of change (Jahoda & Markova, 2004); their skills are underestimated (Siperstein, Norins, Corbin, & Shriver, 2003). Prejudice and discrimination toward people with ID are pervasive phenomena (see, e.g.,
Tachibana & Watanabe, 2004; Akrami, Ekehammar, Claesson, & Sonnander,
2006; Siperstein Parker, Norins, & Widaman, 2011), generally spread across
cultures (Siperstein et al., 2003; Scior, 2011).
Imagined contact: A strategy for improving intergroup relations
Under these circumstances, how is it possible to increment prejudice reduction
toward persons with ID, thus favoring their social inclusion and well-being?
One of the strategies most frequently investigated in social psychological research and implemented in practical interventions, is intergroup contact (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew, 1998). According to Allport’s original formulation,
repeated interactions between members of different groups, under favorable
conditions (cooperation, equal status, institutional support, and common
goals), can reduce prejudice and promote positive attitudes toward the outgroup. Recent meta-analytic studies have well-documented its effectiveness,
by considering many target groups, different contact settings, and different cultures. In addition, contact appears to be effective also in the absence of the optimal conditions singled out by Allport (see Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006; Pettigrew,
Humanization and individuals with ID
Tropp, Wagner, & Christ, 2011). Intergroup contact theory has been further
investigated by Pettigrew (1998) and Brown and Hewstone (2005), and processes underlying the effects of contact on prejudice reduction have been highlighted (see, e.g., Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008). However, only a few studies
have analyzed intergroup contact as an intervention to improve attitudes toward
people with ID; in general, they indicate a positive relationship between contact and more favorable attitudes (see McManus, Feyes, & Saucier, 2010; see
also the review by Scior, 2011).
Research and theory on contact have been broadened to include new forms
of intergroup encounter that go beyond the face-to-face interactions between
members of different groups. For instance, Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe,
and Ropp (1997) proposed the extended contact hypothesis, according to
which merely knowing that an ingroup member has a friendly relationship
with an outgroup member improves the attitudes toward the outgroup. More
recently, another form of intergroup contact - imagined contact - has been proposed by Crisp and Turner (2009): it consists in a mentally simulated interaction with an unknown member of the outgroup.
Research has shown that simply imagining a positive encounter with an outgroup member can have favorable effects on many aspects of the intergroup
relationship (see Crisp & Turner, 2012). Imagined contact represents a powerful tool to improve intergroup relationships, especially when the opportunities
to meet outgroup members are scarce, or when encounters are likely to cause
high levels of uncertainty and anxiety. Mentally simulated contact can, therefore, constitute a form of pre-contact, particularly useful for getting people
prepared for actual interactions with outgroup members. Actually, imagined
positive encounters contribute to developing a mental script – a contact mindset – associated with favorable feelings; this mental script can promote the
intentions to actually meet members of the target outgroup. In their integrated
model, Crisp and Turner detailed key principles, moderator variables, and mediation processes of the effects of imagined contact on the outcome variables.
One crucial mechanism is anxiety reduction, a common mediator in literature
regarding contact (see Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006, 2008; see also Swart, Hewstone, Christ, & Voci, 2011). A second basic mediator is the availability of a
positive mental script channeling future interactions with outgroup members.
Concerning the beneficial effects of imagined contact, many studies have
demonstrated that mental imagery of contact with outgroup members stimulates not only more tolerance at an attitudinal level, but also stronger intentions
to positively interact with the outgroup. In particular, imagined contact has
been found to increase: positive explicit (see, Turner, Crisp, & Lambert, 2007)
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and implicit attitudes (Turner & Crisp, 2010; Vezzali, Capozza, Giovannini, &
Stathi, 2012), contact self-efficacy (Stathi, Crisp, & Hogg, 2011), intentions to
engage in future contact (Husnu & Crisp, 2010), behavioral approach tendencies
(Turner, West, & Christie, 2013), and positive nonverbal behaviors (Turner &
West, 2012). Interestingly, and relevant to the present study, imagined contact can
improve humanity perceptions (Vezzali, Capozza, Stathi, & Giovannini, 2012).
A variety of intergroup relations have been examined, such as: young versus
old people, straight versus gay men, Muslims versus non-Muslims, ethnic majorities versus minorities, normal-weight versus obese people (see Crisp & Turner,
2012). This suggests again the effectiveness of the imagined contact strategy for
promoting harmony between groups, as well as its applicability to many intergroup settings. It is worth noting that imagined contact can have a positive impact
also in ameliorating attitudes and beliefs toward highly stigmatized groups, such
as people with schizophrenia (West, Holmes, & Hewstone, 2011; Stathi, Tsantila,
& Crisp, 2012), a group stereotyped as dangerous, threatening, and unpredictable
(see Angermeyer & Matschinger, 2005).
The typical experimental task, in the imagined contact paradigm, consists in
asking participants to engage for a few minutes in a mentally simulated positive
encounter with an unknown member of the target outgroup. A crucial element in
the instruction set is the positivity of the interaction: participants are asked to imagine themselves interacting with the target person in a positive, relaxed, and comfortable way. In order to strengthen the manipulation, after the mental simulation,
participants are required to write a description of the imagined scenario. In the
control condition, instructions ask participants to imagine, and then describe, a
pleasant outdoor scene.
Several factors in the instructions can enhance the effects of imagined contact.
For instance, the task of imagining a scenario rich in details (degree of elaboration;
Husnu & Crisp, 2010), or that of closing eyes during the mental simulation
(Husnu & Crisp, 2011). In addition, taking the perspective of a third person who,
as a spectator, watches the encounter may lead to infer, from attitudes and emotions experienced during the interaction, more abstract self-traits, such as, being
non-prejudiced or prosocial (Crisp & Husnu, 2011). Finally, imagining the interaction partner as a typical outgroup member may favor the generalization of the
positive contact effects from the partner to the whole outgroup (Stathi et al., 2011).
As an intervention strategy, imagined contact is easy to implement, and suitable
for different intergroup settings. It may promote more harmonious intergroup relationships in educational and organizational contexts, also when the outgroup is
a stigmatized group (Crisp & Turner, 2009, 2012).
Humanization and individuals with ID
2. Aims and hypotheses
The main aim of the current study was to explore whether imagined contact
can enhance humanization of individuals with ID, and whether this effect can
last a certain amount of time. Initial evidence concerning the disabled as a target is offered by Cameron, Rutland, Turner, Holman-Nicolas and Powell
(2011). They showed that, among young children (5 to 10 years), imagined
contact reduces prejudice against physically disabled peers. However, as far
as we know, people with ID have never been considered in imagined contact
research. We suggest that this form of contact can be a suitable intervention
strategy, which can prepare the non-disabled to encounter individuals with ID
when they enter a class, a working group, or a leisure setting.
Regarding the outcome of imagined contact, we decided to consider humanness
attributions. Current research in social psychology has well documented a subtle
humanity bias; namely, the tendency to ascribe a lower human status to the outgroup than the ingroup. In their pioneering work, Leyens and colleagues (Leyens,
Demoulin, Vaes, Gaunt, & Paladino, 2007) introduced the paradigm of
primary/secondary emotions. Secondary emotions (e.g., hope, remorse) are unique to human beings; primary emotions, in contrast (e.g., pleasure, anger), are
shared by humans and animals. Leyens et al. (2001) showed that people tend to
ascribe more secondary emotions to the ingroup than the outgroup, while primary
emotions are not differently assigned to the two groups. Subsequent empirical
evidence has demonstrated that this effect, along with the tendency to perceive
the outgroup in animalistic or mechanistic terms (see, e.g., Capozza, Boccato,
Andrighetto, & Falvo, 2009; Loughnan, Haslam, & Kashima, 2009; Capozza,
Andrighetto, Di Bernardo, & Falvo, 2012), represents a pervasive bias that may
strongly damage the relationships between groups. Goff, Eberhardt, Williams,
and Jackson (2008, Study 5), for instance, found that the activation in White participants of the Black/ape cultural association enhanced the justification of violence against Black targets. Similarly, Greitemeyer and McLatchie (2011) showed
that the denial of humanness to others can lead to an increase in aggressive behaviors (see also Waytz & Epley, 2012); dehumanization can even enhance the
willingness to torture prisoners of war (Viki, Osgood, & Phillips, 2013).
Some studies have analyzed whether direct intergroup contact and extended
contact can reduce the humanity bias (see, Brown, Eller, Leeds, & Stace, 2007;
Capozza, Falvo, Favara, & Trifiletti, 2013; Capozza, Trifiletti, Vezzali, & Favara,
2013). However, so far only one study has investigated the effects of imagined
contact on humanity attributions (Vezzali, Capozza, Stathi, et al., 2012). In the
present study, we test the hypothesis that imagining a positive encounter with an
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individual with ID can ameliorate the humanity perceptions of the entire category of mentally disabled. We chose to analyze humanity attributions, rather
than other forms of bias, because studies investigating stigma toward intellectual disability have mostly focused on attitudes and stereotypes (see e.g., Scior,
2011; Werner et al., 2012). Furthermore, attributions of ‘humanity’ are particularly relevant when dealing with this social category, because people with
intellectual disabilities have been frequently denigrated over the past through
animalistic rhetoric and metaphors comparing them to animals (see Haslam,
2006). In this study, we also test whether the positive effects of imagined contact may last in time. Long term effects would provide strong support to the
efficacy of this intervention strategy.
Non-disabled adults were examined. A longitudinal experimental design was
used: participants were examined twice with a one-month interval. The imagined
contact versus control manipulation was introduced in the questionnaire administered at Time 1 (T1). The dependent variable, measured both at T1 and T2, consisted in the attribution of primary and secondary emotions to individuals with ID.
The hypotheses are the following.
Hypothesis 1. A not fully human status should be ascribed to individuals with
ID, namely they should be assigned more non-uniquely human (primary) than
uniquely human (secondary) emotions5.
Hypothesis 2. The tendency to deny a fully human status to individuals with
ID should be reduced by imagined contact, namely the greater attribution of
primary versus secondary emotions should be lower in the imagined contact
condition than in the control condition.
Hypothesis 3. The beneficial effects of imagined contact should persist at T2.
3. Method
Participants and procedure
Participants were 164 adults, mostly living in Northern Italy (96.3%). Females
were 109; the age range was between 18 and 65 years (M = 31.49, SD = 13.71;
age data were missing for two participants). Eighty-two participants were randomly assigned to the imagined contact condition, and 82 to the control condition.
It is worthwhile to note that generally people describe one’s group or category more in terms of secondary than
primary emotions, namely more in terms of the characteristics which are distinctive of the human species than
in terms of the characteristics that humans share with animals (see, e.g., Cortes, Demoulin, Rodriguez, Rodriguez, & Leyens, 2005, Study 1; Demoulin et al., 2004; Eyssel & Ribas, 2012; Leyens et al., 2001, Studies 1
and 2; Whol, Hornsey, & Bennett, 2012, Studies 1 and 5). This greater attribution of uniquely than non-uniquely
human features may not concern the outgroups.
Humanization and individuals with ID
Participants, individually examined, were informed that they would have
to answer a first questionnaire, which included an imagination task. After a month,
they would have to fill out a second questionnaire. Participants were told that the
aim of the study was to analyze intergroup attitudes; detailed information about
the research would have been provided at the end of the experimental session at
T2. Confidentiality of responses was guaranteed. After filling in the informed
consent form, participants ran through the mental simulation task.
Experimental manipulation (T1 Questionnaire). Participants in the imagined
contact condition were instructed as follows: “We ask you to imagine, for few
minutes, that you meet for the first time a person with intellectual disability.
Imagine that the interaction is positive and pleasant. During the encounter you
notice some pleasant, interesting, and unexpected aspects about the person.
When you are imagining, think in detail about the scenario in which the encounter occurs. We ask you also to imagine the scene by taking a third-person perspective; that is, you see yourself and the disabled person as in a movie. During
the imagination task, try to keep your eyes closed. Please write in the following
lines the imagined encounter, reporting as many details as possible.” In the control condition, instructions were: “We ask you to imagine, for few minutes, an
outdoor landscape. Try to imagine the major aspects of the scene (e.g., is it a
beach, a forest, are there trees, hills, what is on the horizon). We ask you to complete the imagination task keeping your eyes closed. Please write in the following
lines the imagined scene, reporting as many details as possible.”
Manipulation check (T1 Questionnaire). As a check of the experimental
manipulation, we tested whether concepts associated with ID were more accessible in the imagined contact than in the control condition. A word-fragment
completion task was applied that required participants to produce a meaningful
word from each fragment proposed (e.g., d w n). Seven word-fragments were
presented in a list. For each of them, participants were instructed to add as many
letters as they needed to form a meaningful word. We expected that words semantically linked to disability (e.g., d w n [down]; d b e [disabled]; h c p [handicapped]) would be more frequently evoked in the imagined contact condition
than control condition. As a further manipulation check, we measured whether
the imagined interaction had a positive tone. Four items, used only in the imagined contact condition, asked participants whether they had perceived the imagined interaction as: a) positive, and b) pleasant; whether, during the encounter,
they had perceived: c) interesting, and d) unexpected aspects about the imagined
target. A 7-step scale was used, anchored by definitely false (1) and definitely
true (7) with 4 as the midpoint (neither true nor false). The four items were averaged to form a reliable composite score (α = . 73).
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Falvo R. et al.
MANOVA revealed no significant main effects for group and perceived
control variables, but significant group x perceived control interactions for positive parenting [F(1, 83) = 5.60, p < .05] and inconsistent discipline [F(1, 83)
= 6.54, p < .01], whereas for corporal punishment the interaction does not
reach statistical significance [F(1, 83) = 3.74, p = .06]. The figures 1 – 4 present
the 2 (group) x 2 (perceived control) results for these APQ domains. In the
ADHD group, parents with low PCF resulted more positive (fig. 2) than those
who report high PCF [t(34) = 1.70, p < .05], whereas the tendency is opposite
for the non-clinical group where positive parenting was higher associated with
high PCF [t(49) = –1.99, p < .05]. ADHD parents with low PCF result more
inconsistent in discipline (fig. 3) than parents with high PCF [t(34) = 2.00, p
< .01], whereas in the non-clinical group the disciplinary incoherence, expressed by higher scores in the APQ scale, is more common in parents with high
PCF [t(49) = –1.79, p < .05]. Finally, for ADHD group the corporal punishment
frequency (fig. 4) is higher with low PCF, with decreased levels with high PCF
[t(49) = –1.99, p < .05], but this tendency is opposite for non-clinical parents
where lowest levels link with high PCF [t(49) = –1.95, p < .05].
Dependent measure: Humanity attributions (T1 and T2 Questionnaires).
In order to assess the humanity attributions, we used an emotion-based measure
(Demoulin, Leyens, Paladino, Rodriguez, Rodriguez, & Dovidio, 2004; see
also, Leyens et al., 2007). We used three positive (hope, pride, admiration) and
three negative (remorse, shame, resentment) uniquely human emotions, and
three positive (pleasure, excitement, surprise) and three negative (anger, pain,
sadness) non-uniquely human emotions. The 12 emotions were randomly presented in a list including also 14 filler traits (e.g., shyness, generosity, cordiality). Participants were instructed to choose the items that better described
individuals with ID; they could choose as many items as they wished. For each
participant, two scores were obtained, corresponding to the number of primary
and secondary emotions ascribed to individuals with ID. Two scores were obtained for T1 and two for T2.
Prior contact (T1 Questionnaire). Finally, in the T1 questionnaire participants
were asked demographic information; they also answered an item measuring
the quantity of their contact with members of the target category. Specifically,
the item was: “How much contact do you have with people with intellectual
disabilities?”; the 6-step scale was anchored by no contact (1) and very frequent contact (6). Very little (2), little (3), some contact (4), frequent contact
(5) were the other steps of the scale.
Humanization and individuals with ID
4. Results
Manipulation check. In the word-fragment completion task, it was found that
completions related to ID were higher in the imagined contact than control
condition: M = 2.38 (SD = 0.84) vs. M = 1.65 (SD = 0.91), t (162) = 5.36, p <
.001, respectively. Therefore, intellectual disability was more cognitively accessible to participants instructed to engage in the imagined encounter compared to participants who imagined the outdoor scene.
One of the key aspects of the experimental task in the imagined contact condition was the perceived positivity of the interaction with the outgroup member. Results showed that the perceived quality of the imagined encounter was
high: M = 5.65 (SD = 0.94), the mean being significantly different from the
midpoint of the scale, t (81) = 15.99, p < .001. Thus, in the imagined contact
condition, participants viewed the interaction as positive and pleasant, and recognized interesting and unexpected characteristics in the imagined partner
(for the four items separately, mean scores ranged from 5.32 to 5.87, all being
different from 4, ts ≥ 8.89, ps < .001).
Prior contact. As a preliminary analysis we checked whether quantity of prior
contact with people with ID was equivalent for participants assigned to the
two conditions. Mean score for the single-item measure was M = 2.89 (SD =
1.51), in the imagined contact condition, and M = 3.12 (SD = 1.49), in the control condition. The two means were not different, t < 1, and prior contact with
people with ID was rather infrequent for both groups of participants.
Effects of imagined contact on humanity attributions. For each participant,
at both waves in each condition, an index of humanity bias was created corresponding to the difference between the number of primary emotions and the
number of secondary emotions assigned to the target; the higher the positive
score, the more people with ID are perceived more in terms of non-uniquely
human than uniquely human attributes. The mean for the control condition
was M = 1.28 (SD = 1.66) at T1, and M = 1.21 (SD = 1.60) at T2. The mean
for the imagined contact condition was M = 0.77 (SD = 1.46) at T1, and M =
0.84 (SD = 1.49) at T2 (see Figure 1). The four means significantly differed
from 0, ts > 4.77, ps < .001, indicating that more primary than secondary emotions were assigned to people with ID. This finding supports Hypothesis 1: in
both conditions, at both waves, a tendency to assign a not fully human status
to disabled persons was present.
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Falvo R. et al.
Figure 1 - Effects of imagined contact on the humanity bias at Time 1 and Time 2.
In order to test the effect of imagined contact on the reduction of the humanity
bias, a condition (imagined contact vs. control) x time (T1 vs. T2) ANOVA,
with repeated measures on the time factor, was conducted. The main effect of
condition was significant, F (1.162) = 4.60, p = .03, ηp2 = .03: the humanity
bias was lower in the imagined contact, M = 0.80 (SD = 1.20), than in the control condition, M = 1.24 (SD = 1.41). As shown in Figure 1, both at T1 and at
T2, the differential attribution of primary versus secondary emotions was lower
in the imagined contact condition compared to the control condition. This finding supports Hypothesis 2. Thus, imagined contact was effective in reducing
the tendency to deny a fully human status to people with ID. Neither the main
effect of time nor the Time x Condition interaction were significant, Fs < 1,
these findings indicating that the positive effects of the imagined encounter
lasted for about one month, and were not dissipated once out of the experimental setting. Thus, also Hypothesis 3 was confirmed. In Figure 2, we report
the findings distinguishing primary from secondary emotions, and collapsing
the time factor. From the figure it appears that, in the imagined contact condition, there was a tendency to ascribe less primary emotions and more secondary
emotions to individuals with disabilities compared to the control condition.
Humanization and individuals with ID
Figure 2 - Number of primary and secondary emotions (T1 and T2) ascribed to
individuals with ID, as a function of the experimental condition.
5. Discussion
The aim of the present study was to investigate whether imagined contact
(Crisp & Turner, 2009) can be effectively implemented to improve the perception of people with ID. In particular, we aimed at testing the beneficial effects of imagined contact on humanity attributions. A sample of Italian adults
was examined in a longitudinal experimental study (one-month interval between
the two waves). The task of imagined contact at T1 required participants to mentally simulate a positive encounter with an individual with ID; in the control condition, the task was to imagine a pleasant outdoor scene. To measure the
humanity bias, we calculated the difference between the number of primary and
secondary emotions ascribed to the target category. Findings revealed a general
tendency to assign a not fully human status to people with ID, who are perceived
more in terms of non-uniquely human than uniquely human emotions. These
humanity attributions (see also Capozza, Di Bernardo, Falvo, Vianello, & Calò,
2013) may be one of the factors which lead to the stigma experienced in society
by individuals with ID (Scior, 2011; Werner et al., 2012).
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More notably, we found that the tendency to deny the outgroup a fully human
status can be reduced by the mental simulation of a pleasant interaction with
an outgroup member, the positive effect of contact lasting at least one month
after the imagination task. It is worth noting how the present study shows, for
the first time, a one-month longitudinal effect of this form of contact. In the
study by Vezzali, Capozza, Stathi et al. (2012), based on an intervention with
a child sample, a shorter period effect was found. Our study, therefore, extends
previous longitudinal results to an adult population in which humanity perceptions are presumably more difficult to change.
Our results have practical implications. Imagined contact can be easily implemented to equip people with more positive perceptions of individuals with ID
for future encounters in schools, work settings, and health care institutions. Therefore, social policies designed to favor the inclusion of people with ID in community activities could fruitfully benefit from interventions based on imagined
contact. The need for effective programs emerges, for instance, from a study (Siperstein, Parker, Norins, & Widaman, 2007) in which the attitudes of US students
(middle school-aged) toward the inclusion of their ID peers in regular classrooms
were examined. Results showed that, despite legislation and a long period of social policies, US students did not support the inclusion of students with ID and
tended to avoid interactions with their intellectually impaired peers. Similar results
have been found by Siperstein et al. (2011) among Chinese students.
Likewise, for mentally ill people, direct contact with individuals with ID
may cause high levels of anxiety and uncertainty. Thus, interventions based on
imagined contact, rather than face-to-face contact, can represent a first step in
stigma reduction, just because imagined contact creates a positive contact mindset
which favors future interactions. In their research, Stathi et al. (2012) found that
the mental simulation of a positive encounter with a schizophrenic person reduced
negative stereotypes toward the whole group while enhancing intentions for actual
encounters; these effects were mediated by reduced intergroup anxiety.
Research on direct and extended contact has widely demonstrated the crucial
role played by the affective factors in reducing intergroup prejudice (Tropp &
Pettigrew, 2005; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008; see also Capozza, Falvo et al.,
2013). Affective factors are reliable mediators also when imagined contact is
used (for anxiety, see, e.g., Hunsu & Crisp, 2010; Turner et al., 2013); for trust,
see Turner et al., 2013). In the study in which humanity attributions were used
as the outcome (Vezzali, Capozza, Stathi et al., 2012), the effects of imagined
contact were mediated by outgroup trust. Future research should test whether
also reduced anxiety and enhanced empathy may explain the relationship between imagined contact and outgroup humanization. Which emotions are influential mediators likely depends on the target outgroup.
Humanization and individuals with ID
Another task of future research is to assess whether imagined contact can be
successfully used to increase the attribution of uniquely human features (e.g., secondary emotions) to people with ID. As suggested by Capozza, Di Bernardo et
al. (2013), the humanization of individuals with ID could be favored by the implementation of an imagined contact condition, in which the imagined person with
ID feels secondary emotions. This strategy could generate an association between
people with ID and uniquely human characteristics (for how to generate humanizing sentiments toward disabled persons, see also Haslam, 2006, p. 253).
A limitation of the study is that only one operationalization of the humanity
attributions has been used. In future research, findings should be replicated by
using other measures. For instance, trait-based measures or implicit tasks such as
an adaptation of the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, Nosek, & Banaji,
2003). Another limitation is that we used as target the general category of individuals with ID. Future studies should explore whether imagined contact is differently effective when targets have different degrees of intellectual impairment.
Humanization of individuals with ID may favor cooperation with these persons, reduce discrimination against them, and lead to more spontaneous approach tendencies (Capozza, Di Bernardo et al., 2013), which can pave the
way toward friendly and cooperative encounters.
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