Cooperative Learning, Media, and Reading Interventions Show Promise in Reducing Prejudice

In one of the most extensive reviews of prejudice reduction research, the authors identify which interventions and methods work best

Reviewed by Tyrone Fleurizard


In psychological research, prejudice and discrimination dominate as key areas of research. This should come as no surprise considering the sheer amount of resources spent by policymakers and educators alike to reduce prejudice. Since the first attempts to measure prejudice in the mid-1920s, social scientists have tried to understand the nature and origins of prejudice and how to reduce it. What has been learned since then? Is there a best approach to studying and reducing prejudice? 

In this paper, Dr. Elizabeth Levy Paluck, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, and Dr. Donald Green, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, review observational, laboratory, and field studies of interventions aimed at reducing prejudice. Paluck and Green find that while observational studies are informative, they do not help to determine ‘what works’ as they are merely descriptive in nature. Laboratory studies are more methodologically rigorous and seek to establish causality, but they do not represent what happens in reality. This is why the authors conclude that field experiments, or studies seeking to establish causality by examining phenomena in everyday environments, are the most promising means to study the causal impacts of prejudice interventions. Specific interventions that show encouraging results include cooperative learning, media, and reading interventions.

Methods and Findings

The researchers analyzed a sample of nearly one-thousand prejudice reduction interventions across academic and non-academic settings. Categorizing the interventions by research design and intervention technique, the authors then carefully assessed impact. They found: 

  • Non-experimental methods, including purely qualitative studies with no comparison group, help to illustrate themes and inform research questions, but they cannot reliably answer the question of what works.
  • While lab studies allow researchers to test a broad range of intergroup and individual prejudice in a highly controlled environment, they do not allow for accurate portrayals of real-life situations. These studies also tend to rely heavily on college students as participants, investigate limited types of prejudice, and have caused some controversy in the behaviors measured and how they are measured. 
  • Field experiments serve as unique vehicles to properly and meticulously study prejudice reduction. Three types of interventions stand out as showing promise. 
    1. Cooperative learning, in which students must teach and learn from each other, has been shown to enhance perspective taking, social support, and conflict management. An example of this method is the popular Jigsaw Classroom
    2. Media interventions, or one-time viewing experiences of  documentaries or educational movies, has been shown to enhance empathy and perspective taking. 
    3. Reading interventions, where individuals read about different cultures over the course of several weeks, have shown to improve student attitudes towards out-group members.


More than a century has passed since social scientists began measuring prejudice. The research on prejudice has since evolved and become more sophisticated, yet there is still room for growth. More prejudice reduction interventions need to be evaluated rigorously to test the multiple theories within prejudice. 

Despite the need for further research, the present review of prejudice research indicates that cooperative learning helps break down barriers between students, and various forms of multimedia and reading interventions support students to empathize and hold positive attitudes about people from their out-group.

For those interested in studying prejudice, Paluck and Green recommend conducting more field experiments on the main theories of prejudice, namely contact hypothesis, stereotype and implicit prejudice, and social identity. They also recommend assessing the long-term effects of the interventions and expanding the types of outcomes under study. Despite the promise of field experiment interventions, the authors are clear that we are a long way from responsibly declaring the best means to reduce prejudice.


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