Drawing from the intergroup contact model and self-categorization theory, the authors advanced the novel hypothesis of a valence-salience effect, whereby negative contact causes higher category salience than positive contact. As predicted, in a laboratory experiment of interethnic contact, White Australians (N = 49) made more frequent and earlier reference to ethnicity when describing their ethnic contact partner if she had displayed negative (vs. positive, neutral) nonverbal behavior. In a two-wave experimental study of retrieved intergenerational contact, American young adults (N = 240) reported age to be more salient during negative (vs. positive) contact and negative contact predicted increased episodic and chronic category salience over time. Some evidence for the reverse salience-valence effect was also found. Because category salience facilitates contact generalization, these results suggest that intergroup contact is potentially biased toward worsening intergroup relations; further implications for theory and policy making are discussed.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Vol. 36, Issue 12, p. 1723-1738