Prejudice toward immigrants remains widespread in Western multi-ethnic societies. So far, the majority of studies investigated prejudice toward immigrants from either the individual level or the contextual level as viewed from one discipline. In this dissertation, I take an interdisciplinary and multi-method approach to examine how (perceptions of) the social environment contribute to intergroup threat and contact that subsequently have an influence on prejudice toward immigrants. Two research aims are linked to this research question. The first research aim is to investigate whether types of symbolic and realistic intergroup threats that lead to prejudice toward immigrants are salient in different situations. The second research aim is to provide a comprehensive study of how the social environment is related to both direct face-to-face and indirect parasocial contact effects on prejudice toward immigrants. The first research aim was advanced in Chapters 2, 3 and to some extent 4. In Chapter 2, the occurrence of intergroup threats was modeled by intergroup cultural differences and intragroup status in two experiments in Flanders and the Netherlands. By varying levels of intragroup status, it was demonstrated that threat perceptions are influenced by a dominant majority member’s place in the status hierarchy of the dominant majority group. Results revealed that in the high status condition, caring for the group’s resources (i.e. a realistic group threat) and cultural values (i.e. a symbolic group threat) became more important than economic self-interest (i.e. a realistic individual threat). Conversely, for the low status condition, realistic individual threat accompanied with symbolic threat was more important than realistic group threat. Herewith, it is demonstrated that types of realistic and symbolic threats coexist and alternate in salience depending on the context. In Chapter 3, the role of the mass media for perceptions of intergroup threat was investigated to further test the perceptual and context-dependent nature of intergroup threats. Chapter 3 provides a detailed study of threatening cues in Flemish television news on immigrants and how these cues influence threat perceptions and prejudice. A content analysis of eleven years of television news (2003-2013) revealed that threatening cues were widespread in news on North African immigrants; particularly cultural and safety issues were frequent as well as the combination of these two issues. Based on the content analysis, an experiment was constructed to examine the impact of these negative television news portrayals on intergroup threat and prejudice toward North African immigrants. It was found that negative news items depicting cultural and safety issues directly increased respectively symbolic threat and realistic threat with regard to safety, while economic issues did not increase threat. A negative news item that featured a combination of cultural, economic and safety issues only increased realistic threat with regard to safety. Hence, these findings show that threat perceptions are directly influenced by the media, particularly for issues viewers are repeatedly exposed to. The second research aim was examined in Chapters 4, 5 and 6. In Chapter 4, an experiment varying the tone in television news portrayals of North African immigrants was carried out to examine how negative and positive parasocial contact affect intergroup threat and prejudice. Results revealed that exposure to a news item with a negative tone had a strong direct impact on threat and prejudice toward North African immigrants depicted in the news item, while exposure to a news item with a positive tone yielded a secondary transfer effect to more positive general attitudes toward immigrant groups not depicted in the news item, i.e., Eastern European, Sub-Saharan African and Middle Eastern immigrants. Hence, negative parasocial contact deepened prejudice toward the group depicted in the news item, while positive parasocial contact had a broader effect that decreased prejudice to other immigrant groups not depicted in the news item. In Chapter 5, the role of generalized trust for the relationship between direct face-to-face contact and anti-immigrant sentiments was examined. A cross-national multilevel analysis including levels of ethnic diversity, generalized trust and cross-group friendship was performed across 21 European societies. The results showed that ethnic diversity is not positively related to prejudice toward immigrants as was predicted by Putnam’s controversial constrict theory. Moreover, the negative relation between cross-group friendships and prejudice toward immigrants exists independently from the development of generalized trust. This suggests that those less trusting might generalize negative intergroup experiences into a general negative attitude like prejudice, while those with higher generalized trust levels do not. In Chapter 6, the role of ethnically diverse environments was further developed in the context of the multi-ethnic metropolitan areas of Atlanta and Philadelphia in the United States. Secondary transfer effects were examined for the extent to which relations between native-born host groups (i.e., whites and blacks) predicted secondary transfer effects of receptivity toward immigrant groups not involved in the contact situation (i.e., South Asian Indian immigrants and Mexican immigrants). For whites, it was found that more frequent contact with blacks predicted greater receptivity toward both Mexican and South Asian Indian immigrants, while for blacks, more frequent contact with whites predicted greater receptivity only toward Mexican immigrants. Hence, intergroup contact in multi-ethnic environments is both effective against prejudice toward immigrant groups included in and not present in the original contact situation. In sum, this dissertation demonstrates that there is in fact not one constant underlying intergroup threat that drives prejudice toward immigrants but rather an interplay of threats depending on (perceptions of) the social environment in which these intergroup processes take place. However, intergroup threats that lead to prejudice toward immigrants can be reduced by both intergroup parasocial and face-to-face contact that even extends to immigrant groups not included in the original contact situation. These findings show that threat and contact effects do not occur in a social vacuum; instead, intergroup threats alternate in salience depending on the context and intergroup contact in multi-ethnic societies has a wider reach than otherwise assumed.

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Promotor Claes, E.
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van der Linden, M. (2017, January). Context, intergroup threats and contact as determinants of prejudice toward immigrants. Retrieved from