Can past intergroup contact shape support for policies in a pandemic? Processes predicting endorsement of discriminatory Chinese restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis
A survey of 340 UK residents was conducted when the COVID-19 virus first reached the UK in February 2020. We measured past experiences of positive and negative intergroup contact with Chinese people as predictors of intergroup threat and emotions in the context of the pandemic; and how these processes in turn predicted support for discriminatory policies designed to restrict the freedom of Chinese people in the UK. We tested a novel threat-matching hypothesis which draws upon models of outgroup-specific social perception to predict that the emotional processes underlying contact effects will depend on the specific threat posed by the outgroup. In the present epidemiological context, Chinese people posed a salient threat to individuals’ physical health and welfare. Accordingly, we show that whilst intergroup contact predicted both fear and anger towards the outgroup, the indirect effect of contact on support for Chinese restriction policies via fear was significantly stronger than the indirect effect via anger. Our findings provide a more nuanced understanding of how specific threat and emotions drive intergroup contact effects, and offer important insights for efforts to maintain positive intergroup relations in the face of the crisis.