Looking my enemy (?) in the eyes: An eye-tracking study of simulated virtual intergroup contact

Nili Steinfeld, Ohad Shaked

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study addresses questions of access and agency as they come into play in intergroup contact. In such a context, access to information about the outgroup and conflict, as well as active agency in the form of engagement in intergroup discussions about the conflict, group identity, goals and compromises, are often a function of the intensity and effect of the contact. Although intergroup contact has been proven to be efficient in reducing stereotypes and advancing mutual understanding, these effects are inconsistent. The authors introduce eye tracking as a method for assessing participant engagement and attention as predictors of the contact effect on participants. They examine this approach through the use of simulated virtual contact, an innovative method which allows citizens direct access to information about and from the outgroup, and emphasizes participant agency by increasing participant control over the session. Israeli students participated in a simulated virtual contact with a Palestinian while their ocular behaviour was recorded. Anger and hatred toward Palestinians decreased after the session. Perception of Palestinian trustworthiness and ability to change increased. Desire to access information about Palestinians, changes in the belief of Palestinian ability to change, acknowledgment of a shared identity and support for compromises all correlated with visual attention to the speaker, leading to reflections on the relationship between attention and contact intensity and effect. Practical recommendations for promoting participant attention and possibly increasing contact effect are discussed, and the article concludes with a general theoretical discussion on the use of eye tracking for measuring contact intensity and designing better contact experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-341
Number of pages20
JournalMedia, War and Conflict
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • access
  • agency
  • attention
  • citizen engagement
  • eye tracking
  • intergroup conflict
  • intractable conflict
  • psycho–physiological measurements
  • simulated virtual intergroup contact

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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