I stumbled across an interesting news story this weekend that detailed a 13 year old Korean American’s ambitious goal to restore peace between North and South Korea. His name is Jonathan Lee, and he is the founder of I.C.E.Y. H.O.P.E., a youth humanitarian environmental group that seeks to convince North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il to plant a children’s peace force in the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas. Lee says, “What I would really like, if possible, like maybe the children from both countries could be able to meet and play with each other. Like a big playground.”
The contact hypothesis predicts that Lee’s efforts should result in at least some success. In general, the contact hypothesis suggests that interpersonal contact is the most effective way of reducing biases among conflicting groups (Wagner, Tropp, Finchilescu, & Tredoux, 2008). And although Lee’s efforts are geared toward children who may not yet have developed these biases, positive benefits may be seen in the unprejudiced views of these children as they age, as well as the views of watchful Korean nationals who observe this contact. However, for contact to truly be effective, research tells us that it must occur amid certain conditions. First, contact must be between equal status groups. If one country’s children are treated as subordinate to those of the other country, contact is unlikely to yield positive outcomes. Second, the two groups must share common goals. For children, one common goal may be as simple as having fun. For adults, these goals may revolve around reducing tensions among North and South Koreans in later generations. Third, intergroup cooperation must be present. For efforts at peace to be effective, cooperation on both sides of the Koreas is necessary. Fourth, authorities, law, or custom must support this intergroup contact. For Lee’s ambitious goals to stand a chance, both North and South Korean leaders must support his attempts.
The results of Lee’s efforts remain to be seen. Yet, the consistency of these efforts with the contact hypothesis gives us reason to be hopeful. Peace between North and South Korea still remains possible.
Wagner, U., Tropp, L.R., Finchilescu, G. & Tredoux, C. (Eds.). (2008). Improving intergroup relations: Building on the legacy of Thomas F. Pettigrew. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.