When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality

Science  12 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6215, pp. 1366-1369
DOI: 10.1126/science.1256151

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Can a single conversation change minds on divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage? A randomized placebo-controlled trial assessed whether gay (n = 22) or straight (n = 19) messengers were effective at encouraging voters (n = 972) to support same-sex marriage and whether attitude change persisted and spread to others in voters’ social networks. The results, measured by an unrelated panel survey, show that both gay and straight canvassers produced large effects initially, but only gay canvassers’ effects persisted in 3-week, 6-week, and 9-month follow-ups. We also find strong evidence of within-household transmission of opinion change, but only in the wake of conversations with gay canvassers. Contact with gay canvassers further caused substantial change in the ratings of gay men and lesbians more generally. These large, persistent, and contagious effects were confirmed by a follow-up experiment. Contact with minorities coupled with discussion of issues pertinent to them is capable of producing a cascade of opinion change.

Dialogue opens the door to attitude change

Personal contact between in-group and out-group individuals of equivalent status can reduce perceived differences and thus improve intergroup relations. LaCour and Green demonstrate that simply a 20-minute conversation with a gay canvasser produced a large and sustained shift in attitudes toward same-sex marriage for Los Angeles County residents. Surveys showed persistent change up to 9 months after the initial conversation. Indeed, the magnitude of the shift for the person who answered the door was as large as the difference between attitudes in Georgia and Massachusetts.

Science, this issue p. 1366

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