Receptivity to dating and marriage across the religious divide in Northern Ireland: The role of intergroup contact

Jenny Paterson, Rhiannon N. Turner, Gordon Hodson

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Intergroup contact has long been recognised as an important factor in promoting positive intergroup attitudes. However, in operationalising intergroup attitudes, previous studies have rarely investigated attitudes towards one of the most intimate forms of contact, romantic relationships. In this study (N = 176), we expand the intergroup contact literature to examine the association between intergroup contact and, arguably, a litmus test of intergroup attitudes: receptivity to intergroup romance. We do so in Northern Ireland, a context that is historically and presently characterised by sectarian division and tension between Catholics and Protestants. Our findings reveal that intergroup contact is positively associated with receptivity to both dating and marrying an outgroup member. These associations are mediated by ingroup norms towards outgroup romances. General outgroup attitudes were also found to be positively associated with contact but, in contrast to romantic attitudes, this association was shown, for the first time, to be simultaneously mediated by ingroup norms, anxiety, empathy, and trust. In addition, strength of ingroup identification played a moderating role, with a stronger positive relationship between contact and both romantic and general outgroup attitudes among higher identifiers. The findings highlight the importance of examining attitudes towards intergroup romantic relationships, as well as understanding the different mediating and moderating mechanisms which may account for how contact influences general attitudes and romantic attitudes. In the wake of the UK vote to leave the European Union, they also serve as an important reminder of how intergroup contact can be effective in promoting peace in Northern Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2019


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