Sport, Intergroup Contact, and Disability

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About 13 percent of Americans have some form of disability. Despite the high rates, prejudice against people with disabilities is common.

The prejudice can take different forms, including people’s explicit attitudes and their implicit bias. The latter refers to unconscious, unintentional bias people maintain.

Recently, Giovanni Ottoboni, of the University of Bologna in Italy, and his colleagues examined ways in which prejudice toward people with disabilities might be reduced.

They focused on school aged children, ages 10 to 12, and how being around school mates with a disability might shape their attitudes. The research team collected data in October and then again in May.

They found a significant reduction in implicit bias among students who were around peers with a disability. Bias did not change among students who did not have such interactions.

The type of contact also mattered. Students who participated in team sports with a person with a disability had the biggest decrease in their implicit bias. For those whose contact came in the classrooms, there was a corresponding reduction in bias, but it was not as strong.

Ottoboni and colleagues attributed the changes to the nature of sport, the interdependence among the players, and the necessity of collaboration in order to be successful.

Their findings are also consistent with other research, showing that engaging in sport with people who are different from you can help to reduce anxiety and prejudice. Thus, in addition to the many health and psychological benefits sport provides, it also has the potential to improve intergroup relations.