For me, the most important experiment that was never done would be on contact, and would include independent variables to meet all of Allport’s criteria: equal status, valued differences, cooperation and institutional support (at the highest level) for the contact situation. Dependent measures would be specific and generalised attitudes and behaviour towards a stigmatised group, as well as levels of anxiety about the contact.
Will my experiment ever be carried out? Probably not in a lab, and there lies a dilemma for experimental social psychology. My most important experiment would have an infinite number of cells, be ethically unsuitable and those factors essential to Allport’s theory would be impossible to manipulate as they are embedded in history and culture and not the increasingly sophisticated tool-kit of experimental psychology and intergroup relations. However, my experiment is already happening in the day-to-day lives of people and communities across the world. So the only way to run my experiment meaningfully would be in a real life context in specific real life situations (e.g. see Maras & Brown, 1996; 2000) or in large-scale applied studies in collaboration with scientists from other disciplines such as economics, anthropology, social welfare and political sciences (e.g. see Silbereisen’s 2005 study with sociologists and economists on adolescent development in the wake of German unification). Will my real life experiment ever be unnecessary? Personally, I hope so, but there is the conundrum because if Allport’s criteria are correct and met what would we have left to research?”
Professor Pam Maras is President of the British Psychological Society.