Parallel lives: Intergroup contact, threat and the segregation of everyday activity spaces

John Dixon, Colin Tredoux, Gemma Davies, Jonathan Huck, Bree Hocking, Brendan Sturgeon, Duncan Whyatt, Neil Jarman, Dominic Bryan

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Although intergroup contact can reduce prejudice, opportunities to experience such contact are often constrained by systems of segregation. Work on this problem has focused on divisions entrenched within institutions of residence, education, and employment. Our research employed a complementary approach, which treated segregation as the outcome of individuals' movements over time within everyday life spaces. Taking as a case study Catholics' and Protestants' use of public environments in north Belfast, we used GPS tracking technology, combined with GIS analytics, to explore the time geography of residents' activity space use over a 2-week period (Study 1). We also conducted a field survey to explore how psychological factors shaped their willingness to use activity spaces beyond their own communities (Study 2). Analysis based on around 1,000 hr of raw movement data revealed that north Belfast is marked by high levels of segregation, expressed via residents' limited use of public spaces, facilities, and pathways located in outgroup areas. However, use of shared spaces is also common, with Catholics spending more time in such spaces than Protestants. Structural equation modeling suggested that residents' self-reported willingness to use activity spaces outside their own communities was associated with both negative and positive intergroup contact-relationships partially mediated by realistic threat, symbolic threat, and anxiety over interaction across sectarian lines. Both kinds of contact and realistic threat were also associated with the time residents actually spent in spaces beyond their own communities. Opportunities for integrating psychological and geographic research on contact and segregation are highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457–480
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2019


  • Contact
  • Intergroup threat
  • Mobility
  • Segregation


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