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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Prof Jason Shachat

Smyth, Russell, Gu, Jun, Mueller, Annika, Nielson, Ingrid & Shachat, Jason (2019). Improving intergroup relations through actual and imagined contact: Field experiments with Malawian shopkeepers and Chinese migrants. Economic Development and Cultural Change 68(1): 273-303.

Author(s) from Durham


We examine the ability of intergroup contact to ameliorate intergroup relationship in
an entrepreneurial and developing world context. Specifically, we provide a simple decision model
of how an entrepreneur chooses to invest time to extend their professional network. The model
accommodates two distinct channels, and generates alternative predictions based upon which is
activated by intergroup contact. One is the knowledge of the necessary time investment to forge a
network connection with a member of another group and the second is the preference driven
disutility of that time spent with that individual. We then employ randomized experiments to test
whether actual and imagined contact effectively reduces prejudice between indigenous Malawian
shopkeepers, and their Chinese migrant counterparts and test the stability of these changes over
time. Actual contact produced differing results. Local Malawians’ attitude towards Chinese
migrants did not improve, but their willingness-to-spend time with them did. In contrast, actual contact led to improvement in the Chinese migrants’ attitude toward local Malawians, but did not
increase their willingness-to-spend time with them. These effects persisted over a time period of
at least ten days. Imagined contact had no impact on Malawians’ attitude towards or willingness
to spend time with Chinese migrants. These results are consistent with contact activating
informational channels more so than preference ones.