The contact hypothesis proposes that interaction of different groups reduces intergroup prejudice if certain optimal conditions are present (e.g. Allport, 1958). Critics, though, have pointed to the danger of research built on the contact hypothesis of Gordon Allport being applicable only in rare contexts, under highly idealized conditions (e.g. Dixon et al. 2005: 1). The generalisation of such research may not be useful in specific contexts where these conditions are lacking. When applied to areas of conflict, other issues and mechanisms related to the specific area or region, may affect the outcome of the processes in ways that are not presented in the generalized theories.
The change of attitudes and prejudice is the focus of analysis in this thesis. A case study of the Middle East Program for Young Leaders (MEP) is at the heart of the discussion. In the thesis I compare findings from the MEP case to theories on the optimal contact strategy, inspired by the early work of Allport, and further developed by a variety of social psychologists through the last fifty years. I also compare the findings from the case to theories on conflict resolution, focusing on interactive conflict resolution, inspired by the work of e.g. Burton, Azar and Kelman, and formulated and reviewed by Fisher (1997). Through this I hope to address some important issues of conflict resolution by the use of knowledge and methods from the psychological disciplines.
The review of the literature reveals that psychological mechanisms in such conflict resolution work is not given enough emphasis, particularly in intractable conflicts, where conflictants experience extreme conditions of threats, fears, and sufferings. The success of the MEP program in building long lasting intergroup friendships is due to a long-term and open ended process, based on sensitivity regarding issues and needs of the various parties in the program. The various conditions mentioned in the contact literature seem to have contributed to the success of building cooperation, empathy and trust among the participants. Though, the study strongly suggests that conflict resolution workshops in intractable conflicts confront additional challenges. Friendship formation and building of trust in such conflicts seem to depend also on some skills as active practitioners. These can be brought forward through facilitation or learned through active participation in a continuous process.