Reducing prejudice in Northern Ireland

Research has found that interaction between Catholic and Protestant groups could have a stronger impact on reducing levels of prejudice between both faith groups in Northern Ireland when it is a novel feature in a person’s life.

The two studies, published in the British Psychological Society’s British Journal of Educational Psychology via the Wiley Online Library, were carried out by psychologists from England, Northern Ireland, and Italy examined the amount of contact between Catholic and Protestant students in Northern Ireland at current and prior levels of education, and at home. They then examined the effects of contact on levels of prejudice.

The research determined that contact with a member of another faith group was found to be more powerful in reducing prejudice when it was a unique feature in a person’s life. Forming intergroup relationships for the first time at university-level, for example, appeared to have a stronger impact on reducing prejudice for those who have had little inter-group contact in the past, when compared to those who have had a lot of prior inter-group contact.

Dr Ananthi Al Ramiah of the University of Oxford says:

“Inter-group contact needs to be encouraged where possible and not only during the early stages of education. Interaction is especially beneficial in reducing prejudice if there has not been contact before. This finding supports the idea that it is never too late to introduce intergroup contact.

“This finding has potentially important implications, especially in post-conflict societies, such as Northern Ireland, where people from different groups may now live alongside or at least in some proximity to one another. It could also help policy-makers when deciding how best to allocate resources to improve community relations.”

The team of researchers also included Society Fellow, Miles Hewstone from the University of Oxford, Alberto Voci from the University of Padova, Ed Cairns from the University of Ulster, and Joanne Hughes, from Queens University Belfast.