Increases in tolerance within naturalistic, intentional communities: a randomized, longitudinal examination.
ABSTRACT The authors examine differential changes in values of tolerance among 150 participants discharged from inpatient treatment centers, and randomly assigned to either a self-help-based, communal living setting (i.e., Oxford House), or usual aftercare. Participants were interviewed every 6 months for a 24-month period. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to examine the effect of condition (therapeutic communal living versus usual aftercare) on wave trajectories of tolerance (i.e., universality/diversity scores). Over time, residents of the communal living model demonstrated significantly greater values of tolerance than usual aftercare participants. Communal living participants who resided in the house for over 6 months showed the most substantial increases in tolerance. Results support the notion that communal living residents may develop more tolerant attitudes by striving toward superordinate community goals (objectives held by (a) the whole group and (b) which individual members could not achieve alone).
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: One of the largest examples of a community-based, mutual-help residential community for high risk substance abuse individuals is Oxford House. In the U.S., over 9,800 people live in these self-run dwellings where they obtain jobs, pay utility bills, and learn to be responsible citizens. Beginning with one single rented residence in the mid 1970s, Oxford Houses now number over 1,300. These rented homes are helping to deal with drug addiction and community re-entry by providing stable housing without any limits on length of stay, a network of job opportunities, and support for abstinence. An exploration of the research on these unique settings highlights the strengths of such a community-based approach to addressing addiction. New roles for psychologists in working with these types of support systems are identified.Psychological Services 05/2010; 7(2):92-102. · 1.08 Impact Factor
Article: From personal tragedy to personal challenge: responses to stigma among sober living home residents and operators.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Sober living homes for people attempting to maintain abstinence from alcohol and drugs can act as a buffer against the high rates of substance misuse that are endemic to many urban environments. Sober living homes and other group homes for people with disabilities have faced persistent opposition from neighbourhood associations, which raises the question of stigma. This article describes the responses of sober living home residents and operators to the threat of stigma across a diverse set of neighbourhoods. Ten focus groups were conducted with 68 residents and operators of 35 sober living homes in Los Angeles County, California, between January 2009 and March 2010. Results showed that few residents reported experiences of blatant stigmatisation by neighbours; however, they were well aware of the stereotypes that could be ascribed to them. Despite this potential stigma, residents developed valued identities as helpers in their communities, providing advice to neighbours whose family or friends had substance use problems, and organising community service activities to improve the appearance of their neighbourhoods. With their attention to local context, sober living home residents and operators challenge the personal tragedy approach of much traditional advocacy on health-related stigma.Sociology of Health & Illness 06/2011; 34(3):379-95. · 1.88 Impact Factor
Increases in Tolerance Within Naturalistic, Intentional
Communities: A Randomized, Longitudinal Examination
Brad Olson•Leonard A. Jason•Michelle Davidson•
Joseph R. Ferrari
Published online: 17 October 2009
? Society for Community Research and Action 2009
values of tolerance among 150 participants discharged
from inpatient treatment centers, and randomly assigned to
either a self-help-based, communal living setting (i.e.,
Oxford House), or usual aftercare. Participants were
interviewed every 6 months for a 24-month period. Hier-
archical linear modeling (HLM) was used to examine the
effect of condition (therapeutic communal living versus
usual aftercare) on wave trajectories of tolerance (i.e.,
universality/diversity scores). Over time, residents of the
communal living model demonstrated significantly greater
values of tolerance than usual aftercare participants.
Communal living participants who resided in the house for
over 6 months showed the most substantial increases in
tolerance. Results support the notion that communal living
residents may develop more tolerant attitudes by striving
toward superordinate community goals (objectives held by
(a) the whole group and (b) which individual members
could not achieve alone).
The authors examine differential changes in
Prejudice reduction ? Community intervention ?
Randomized design ? Self- and mutual-help
Tolerance ? Universality ?
Interventions in natural settings have been designed to
reduce prejudice, or, from a more strengths-based per-
spective, to increase tolerance toward others. Prior research
has focused on youth in community-based service learning
projects. Such studies have engaged students in real-life
pro-social activities, examining whether the values those
students held toward diversity had changed due to the
intervention (e.g., Erickson and O’Connor 2000). In one
such study, students presented workshops at inpatient sub-
stance abuse facilities for juvenile offenders with the
objective of helping participants better recognize ‘the nat-
ure of oppression.’ The dual goal was to increase tolerance-
based values in both the students providing the training and
the workshop participants (Carlebach and Singer 1998).
Other educational efforts have attempted to shape the sense
of community in various diverse settings by more fully
integrating participants within interactive activities (Molina
and Wittig 2006; O’Grady 2000), engaging participants in
prejudice reduction seminars (McCool et al. 2006), or
teaching courses that emphasized the value of multicultur-
alism (Case 2007; Castillo et al. 2007; Lillis and Hayes
Several such interventions have been found to reduce
intergroup conflict (Hewstone and Cairns 2001), and to
promote an overall greater appreciation for diversity among
community participants (Lindsley 1998; Rooney-Rebeck
and Jason 1986).
A longstanding theoretical distinction in the develop-
ment of tolerance among diverse but ambivalent groups
suggests that mere social contact can have a positive effect
on values of tolerance, although not as strong as interven-
tions that involve more interactive, interpersonal, and
cognitive forms of mutual involvement (Allport 1955;
Berryman-Fink 2006; Pettigrew and Tropp 2006). In certain
contexts, it has been argued, mere contact alone can pro-
duce more tension and distrust than harmony. Enhanced
interventions that go beyond mere contact often involve
more directed and intensively cooperative interactions.
B. Olson (&)
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
L. A. Jason ? M. Davidson ? J. R. Ferrari
DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA
Am J Community Psychol (2009) 44:188–195
From a social psychological perspective, the goal of these
interactions is for the dissonant group members to eventu-
ally recategorize their labeling of ‘‘outgroup’’ members
from a sense of ‘‘them’’ to a sense of ‘‘us’’ (Dovidio and
Gaertner 1999; Miller and Brewer 1986).
From a community psychology perspective, the compa-
rable goal is bring together the psychological elements that
can produce a greater ‘‘sense of community’’. Regardless of
the lens, tolerance development requires community mem-
bers to ignore less substantive, superficial differences, and
eventually unify around superordinate community goals.
Superordinate goals are those that individual members
cannot achieve alone, but that which can be achieved
through the mutual cooperation of all community members
(Allport 1955; Sherif and Sherif 1969). In every sense,
mutually beneficial forms of cooperation are central to any
meaning of the term ‘‘community.’’
In the emphasis to move beyond mere exposure, there are
other more information-based theories on increasing toler-
ance. They tend to stress the beneficial effect of expanding
communication across individuals from diverse groups. The
more time members spend talking, the more likely they are
to recognize the commonalities within their belief systems
and to begin developing stronger bonds and cooperative
systems (Gallois and Callan 1998; Nagda 2006).
The goal of tolerance, regardless of the theory, is not
merely to have members of previously opposing groups
‘‘get along’’. The aim is equally to bring about broader,
more deeply established worldviews that emphasize ‘‘tol-
erance.’’ The shared recognition of common values, the
greater quality of life associated with a sense of community,
and the enhancement of collective self-esteem are all likely
to promote increases in tolerance and a sense of connection
that generalizes throughout the areas of a person’s life
(Aboud and Levy 2000; Johnson and Johnson 2000).
In the literature on tolerance, there have been multiple
calls for examinations using randomized and longitudinal
designs. Researchers have also stated the need for studies
that occur in real-world settings (Oskamp 2000), and that
are set in more naturalistic environments (Ponterotto and
Pederson 1993). One set of researchers have expressed a
desire for studies of programs that develop tolerance
through ‘‘microcosms of community building’’ (Cheng
et al. 1998).
Such naturalistic research is consistent with early social
psychological work on prejudice reduction and conflict
resolution (Sherif and Sherif 1969). One of the hopes for
contemporary studies is that the members of the previously
inclusive communities will show long-term, developmental
increases in tolerance (Ponterotto and Pederson 1993).
Moreover, there is a related emphasis on more macro,
social-structural, and participatory action-based approaches
to tolerance building (Cheng et al. 1998; Brotherton 2007;
Paluck 2006; Roesch and Carr 2000, Salina and Lesondak
2002). The interventions must also, if they are to truly
succeed, be ‘‘multifaceted’’ and ‘‘omnipresent’’—in other
words, systems-based (Ponterotto 1991). Systemic changes
are the most likely to bring about sustainable increases in
tolerance (Chin 2005).
Too few studies have examined potential changes in
tolerance among naturally occurring groups, particularly
within larger-scale, community-based interventions. None
that we are aware of have been conducted within ran-
domized, longitudinal designs. Our interest was in better
understanding whether more tolerance develops over a
period of several years in one unique therapeutic, inten-
tional community setting. The name of the intentional
communities or homes is Oxford House. Oxford Houses are
settings focused on recovery from substance abuse prob-
lems (see Jason et al. 2006, 2007, 2008a; Olson et al.
2005). Presently, there are eight Oxford Houses in Aus-
tralia, 30 in Canada, and over 1,200 in the US.
Through informal conversations and qualitative data on
Oxford House residents (Alvarez et al. 2004; Jason et al.
2008b), individuals in these living communities report
initially moving in with very different demographic char-
acteristics and worldviews from other members who are
from varied religions, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations,
and other forms of diversity. Yet due to a set of implicit
and explicit norms surrounding equality, power-sharing,
and mutual-responsibility, participants describe time and
again their experiences developing a greater appreciation
for this diversity. Some of these issues are hinted at in the
group’s central philosophy. For instance, the Oxford House
Traditions state, ‘‘The bond that holds the group together is
the desire to stop drinking and stay stopped’’ (Tradition 1),
and ‘‘By running Oxford House on a democratic basis,
members of Oxford House become able to accept the
authority of the group because the group is a peer group.
Each member has an equal voice in the group and each has
an opportunity to relearn responsibility and to accept
decisions once they are made (Tradition 2)’’ (Oxford House
Consistent with theories on prejudice and intergroup
conflict that emphasize the value of superordinate com-
munity goals in bringing about tolerance, the shared mis-
sion of all members within each house (and across the
movement as a whole) is the attempt to overcome the highly
challenging problem of addiction. Thus, recovery from
addiction is thought to supersede all other possible differ-
ences and divisions among members. The residents also live
communally, without any form of professional on-site
healthcare or staff supervision. Therefore, the achieving of
this superordinate community goal is not only dependent
Am J Community Psychol (2009) 44:188–195 189
on each individual, but on the mutual help provided by all
residents. A fundamental characteristic of these settings is
for residents to live together as a family (Olson et al. 2005).
Like any fully functioning family, conflicts over specific
issues arise. Yet, overall, members respect, tolerate, and
become more appreciative of the ways in which community
members differ from themselves in appearance, habits,
beliefs, and values (Oxford House Manual 2008).
Successful social interactions often require an awareness
of both similarities and differences among people. Some
members grow up with little money and little exposure to
diverse groups outside their own. Each person therefore
enters the setting with a unique set of past experiences.
Nevertheless, they also share much in common in terms of
their life histories. There are likely many processes of
change that occur within an Oxford House, and those that
increase the chances of recovery from substance abuse may
also impact a person’s general orientation to life, including
their values toward diversity and universality.
The present study examined values of tolerance in 150
participants (75 in the Oxford House condition, and 75 in
the usual care condition) who were initially recruited from
(and initially interviewed at) a variety of urban, inpatient
treatment settings. Participants
assigned to move into an Oxford House or to reside in one
of a variety of traditional aftercare options of their
choice—much as they would have if they had not partici-
pated in the study. Changes in values of tolerance were
then examined for a 2-year period, whether participants
stayed in an Oxford House or their initial aftercare location
or whether they moved elsewhere. The hypothesis was that
participants assigned to an Oxford House condition would
show greater increases in tolerance (i.e., universality/
diversity) over the 2-year period than those in the usual
Participants were recruited from inpatient substance abuse
treatment facilities in and around Chicago, Illinois for over
a year and a half. Residents of the treatment facilities were
asked to participate in a research project assessing post-
treatment recovery patterns by measuring outcomes across
2 years following discharge. Prospective participants
agreed to the random assignment process to either move
into an Oxford House condition or to choose the living
situation that they, in conjunction with a case manager,
would have made without the study. In most usual aftercare
cases, participants returned home and participated in some
form of outpatient treatment.
Of those approached for the study, only four indicated a
lack of interest in participating. All participants had severe
drug and alcohol histories and were representative of cli-
ents at these urban treatment sites (see Jason et al. 2006). A
total of 150 adults agreed to participate, and they were
randomly assigned to one of the two conditions, leading to
75 adults (46 women, 29 men) in the Oxford House con-
dition and 75 (47 women, 28 men) in the usual aftercare
All participants took part in a baseline interview 2–3 days
prior to discharge from their treatment programs. From the
2-year period, yielding a total of five assessments (i.e.,
baseline, 6, 12, 18, and 24 months follow-ups). To reach the
participants across the assessment waves, interviewers used
The packet contained telephone numbers and addresses of
information for social network information had been
obtained during the baseline period and in each subsequent
wave. Participants were paid $40 for filling out the baseline
battery, and the same amount was used for all subsequent
After completion of the baseline battery, participants
were assigned to one of the two conditions. Participants
assigned to Oxford House were brought by research staff to
one of the 20 existing Illinois houses. Their entrance as a
resident in the house depended on a majority vote by all
existing house residents. All Oxford House participants
except one were successfully voted into a house in the first
attempt. The single participant who was not voted into the
first house was brought to a second, and was then suc-
cessfully accepted as a resident. Participants randomly
assigned to the usual aftercare condition, as stated, often
moved to a recovery home, back with family, or to a single
occupancy residence, and were referred by their case
managers to different forms of outpatient treatment or other
resources in the community.
Over the 2-year follow-up, Oxford House participants
spent an average of 256.2 days (range 8–730) in the set-
ting. Over the course of the study, two individuals assigned
to the usual care condition applied for and gained admis-
sion to an Oxford House (both decided to apply for entry
after spending time at other sites following discharge from
the treatment facility). Using intent-to-treat rules, both
individuals continued to be assigned to the usual care
condition until the end of the study. Regarding attrition, the
completion rate across the 2 years was comparable for
participants in the Oxford House (89%) and usual aftercare
190Am J Community Psychol (2009) 44:188–195
Primary Psychometric Measures for the Present Study
Numerous measures were included in the study. Demo-
graphics on age and education, were collected through the
Addiction Severity Index (ASI) (McLellan et al. 1992).
Miville–Guzman Universality-Diversity Scale (M-GUDS)
Miville et al. (1999) developed the construct called Uni-
versal-Diverse Orientation (UDO), reflecting attitudes or
values toward others that is ‘‘inclusive yet differentiating in
that similarities and differences are both recognized and
accepted; the shared experience of being human results in
a sense of connection with people and is associated with
a plurality or diversity of interactions with others.’’ The
M-GUDS assesses UDO through a total score of three
subscales measuring the cognitive, behavioral, and affec-
tive components of the construct.
The cognitive component assesses the relativistic
appreciation one has of the self and of others. The behav-
ioral aspect measures the degree to which an individual
seeks out contact with diverse groups. Finally, the affective
component assesses an individual’s sense of connectedness
The M-GUDS has been found in past studies to relate
significantly to various measures of racial identity, empa-
thy, feminism, androgyny, and is negatively correlated with
homophobia and dogmatism. The coefficient alpha for the
total score in various studies has ranged from .77 to .93,
with test–retest reliability of .94. In the present study, only
results with the total score are reported. Separate analyses
were run with individual subscales, but no differential
patterns were found.
Marlowe–Crowne Social Desirability Scale
All participants completed the revised Marlowe–Crowne
Social Desirability Scale (Reynolds 1982), a 13-item true/
false instrument that assesses any excessive tendency on
the respondent’s part to provide socially appropriate
answers. The short Form-C used in the present study has
strong reliability and validity across several samples and
populations (e.g., Andrews and Meyer 2003). With the
current sample, Cronbach’s alpha was .74 (M score = 4.5;
SD = 2.88) at the baseline assessment.
Baseline Socio-Demographic Analyses
Baseline differences between participants in the two con-
ditions were first evaluated by chi-square, independent
sample t-tests, or zero-order correlates, depending on the
nature of the variable and the scale used. Results indicated
no significant differences between participants in either
Oxford House or usual aftercare conditions on socio-
demographic variables (see also Jason et al. 2006 for more
details). Across both conditions, most participants were
female (62%). As for ethnicity, the sample was 77.3%
African American, 11.3% European American, 8% His-
panic/Latino/a American, and 3.3% Asian American. Social
desirability was not significantly correlated with the M-
GUDS or tolerance scores at baseline.
For all subsequent major analyses, Hierarchical Linear
Modeling (HLM) was used. This analytical approach
examined intra-individual, repeated measures data over
time nested within person-level variables (i.e., inter-indi-
vidual characteristics such as demographic and condition-
related variables; Raudenbush et al. 2000). The overall
M-GUDS scores were used as the dependent variable. The
wave trajectory defined by each 6-month time period was
included as a Level-l variable. Condition (Oxford House
versus usual aftercare) and other person-level control
variables (gender, age, education, and social desirability
tendencies) were entered as Level-2 variables. As required
by HLM, there was no missing data at Level-2; and HLM
effectively handles missing data in Level-1 variables,
particularly within a multi-wave, longitudinal design.
In the second set of regressions, length-of-stay among
Oxford House-only participants was more closely exam-
ined. The moderator variable in this Oxford House-only
analysis focused on whether participants resided in an
Oxford House for more than 6 months or for less than
6 months. Other than this second-level length-of-stay var-
iable in place of condition, all other first- and second-level
variables were equivalent with the prior model.
Outcome Variables Over Time
In the primary HLM analysis, tolerance scores were pre-
dicted by time at the first level, with second-level predic-
tors including: age, education, social desirability, and
experimental condition (Oxford House vs. usual aftercare).
Results confirmed that, at baseline, participants had aver-
age tolerance scores that did not differ by condition, just as
would be expected through a successful random assign-
ment process. The gamma for the second-level condition
variable, predicting the relationship between time and tol-
erance, (i.e., the wave trajectory for tolerance), suggested
that steeper tolerance slopes were found for the Oxford
House participants compared to those in the usual aftercare
Am J Community Psychol (2009) 44:188–195191
condition (see Table 1). That is, as hypothesized, Oxford
House participants showed greater growth, based on
M-GUDS, in their tolerance scores over the 2-year period
[Gamma = -.08, SE = .02, t = -3.45, P\.001].
Length-of-Stay Outcome Findings
There was also an interest in examining whether longer
periods of residence in Oxford House (that is, to a certain
extent, a ‘‘greater treatment dose’’) would also be associ-
ated with increases in M-GUDS scores over the five
assessment waves. Therefore, among Oxford House resi-
dents, participants who had lived in the setting for less than
6 months (54.8% of the sample) were dummy coded sep-
arately from those who had resided in an Oxford House for
6 or more months (45.2% of the present sample). We again
used HLM to model whether the dichotomous variable
related to length-of-stay (i.e., less than 6 months vs. 6 or
more months in Oxford House) predicted the wave tra-
jectory of time and the major outcome variable of tolerance
scores. The same second-level moderators and control
variables were included as in prior models, with the
exception of condition. As with the prior analysis, there
were no significant differences in baseline tolerance scores
across the two groups. Examining the primary outcome, a
significant length-of-stay effect was found for tolerance
[Gamma = .07, SE = .03, t = 2.02, P\.05]. In other
words, residents who had remained in the house for at least
6 months had significantly steeper increases in tolerance
over the 2-year period, controlling for gender, age, edu-
cation, and social desirability.
In the present study, residents assigned to the Oxford
House condition showed substantially greater increases in
tolerance over the 2-year period. Among Oxford House
residents, those who remained in the house for more than
6 months showed the greatest increases in tolerance.
Methodologically, the randomized longitudinal design
increases the likelihood that these attitudinal changes
are attributable to life in the intentional, therapeutic
The length-of-stay findings further suggest the influence
of Oxford House life on attitudes favorable to diversity and
universality. While the length-of-stay effect could be due
to unknown preexisting differences in who stayed in the
houses longer, there were no preexisting differences in the
level of tolerance between the two conditions. Moreover,
we controlled for numerous variables including gender,
age, education, and social desirability. More likely is that
increases in tolerance were due to the prolonged living
experience in the mutual help setting, providing longer
staying residents with greater opportunities to benefit from
the psychological features working to promote changes in
values toward diversity and universality.
These findings are corroborated by past qualitative work
on diverse samples within the Oxford House community
(Alvarez et al. 2004; Jason et al. 2008b). One resident in
the Alvarez et al. study, for example, had grown up in an
exclusively Latino neighborhood and Latino household.
When describing his initial apprehension around moving
into an Oxford House, he wondered how he would respond
to the ethnic mix of other residents and how they would
respond to him. According to the participant, the process
worked rather quickly.
He reported feeling ‘‘… a little nervous at first. But in
my house.’’ Other Latino participants argued that, ‘‘There’s
really no prejudice [in Oxford House]. It’s not a matter of
skin color, it’s only a matter of [being] ‘clean’ [of alcohol
and drugs],…how willing you are to be a part of this, just
your willingness to be ‘clean’ is all that matters.’’ Another
participant stated, ‘‘In this house we don’t see each other as
different colors. We are a family’’. These narratives by no
account are meant to suggest the Oxford House is a utopian
community. Conflict and intolerance exist everywhere, but
the narratives do reflect real experiences in settings with
norms explicitly favoring tolerance toward others.
None of the present findings, even the length-of-stay-
effect, provide direct insight into the social contact (or
mere exposure) hypothesis compared to more integrative
and informational models. Nevertheless, we believe that
contact between groups, in and of itself, is a necessary first
Table 1 Second level predictors including condition on the rela-
tionship between wave trajectory and tolerance outcome
Social Des. .04 .022.66**
Age .09.09 .94
Education .06 .022.76**
On wave trajectory
Intercept .27 .09 2.86 **
Social Des.-.00 .00-1.12
* .05, ** .01, *** .001
192Am J Community Psychol (2009) 44:188–195
step, but far from sufficient in bringing about tolerance.
Yet, if mere contact is not enough, what event, activities,
and processes might occur within the Oxford House
experience that would contribute to values of diversity and
universality in its members?
Potential Factors Contributing to Tolerance
While living together in an Oxford House, members begin
to share substantial time with one another, exchanging
meaningful life stories, discussing past events associated
with prior drug use, talking about personal and group goals,
enjoying meals together, engaging in chores, attending
12-step meetings, and participating in other social outings
(Olson et al. 2005). With this involvement, a sense of
cohesion is likely to develop and a more meaningful col-
lective sense of community (Jason et al. 2008a; Olson et al.
2003). As theorists like Allport (1955) assumed, the com-
mon striving of differing sets of individuals toward
superordinate community goals is primary to eliminating
prejudices and strengthening common bonds.
For each Oxford House resident, fighting the temptation
to use alcohol, cocaine, heroin and other drugs is a current
and urgent life challenge. This is their superordinate
community goal. The pronounced and concerted path to
achieving that goal within Oxford House is achieved by
working together with all diverse members of the house
and the larger Oxford House community. A mutual inter-
dependence develops. This is at least one hypothesis of the
Oxford House effect.
Other structures and functions of the Oxford House
experience may also impact the processes of change that
facilitate greater values of diversity and universality. One
place to turn to understand these processes is in the
transtheoretical model of change, which has its roots in the
addiction literature (Prochaska et al. 1992). In a review of
studies on self-help groups, each of the ten processes of the
transtheoretical model are likely to be enhanced by the
mutual-help experience in ways that could increase values
related to tolerance (Olson et al. 2005).
For example, the transtheoretical processes of self- and
social-liberation represent a freeing of the self from
dependency and disempowerment, as well as a better
ability to recognize the broader social implications of one’s
challenges (e.g., stigma). Both processes are consistent
with a greater sense of the struggles others face and a
greater appreciation for non-normative differences in those
others. Another process, environmental reevaluation, the
understanding of how one’s own beliefs and actions impact
others, can develop through indirect but also direct means
within an Oxford House. For instance, when a serious
argument arises between two Oxford House residents, the
house as a whole often places the two contentious members
on contract. They are then to sit at a table together for a
half an hour each day for a full week or until they are able
to resolve their differences. These processes and others
within the transtheoretical model are all possible candi-
dates for increasing tolerance toward others. Moreover,
each process is more likely to be developed in mutual-help
settings than treatment settings characterized by deindi-
viduation and institutionalization (Olson et al. 2005).
One social scientific study to receive widespread media
attention was conducted by Putnam (2007), of Bowling
Alone fame. Putnam and colleagues found that more
diverse, integrated communities were faced with signifi-
cantly more intergroup tension and distrust—in essence,
less tolerance. The study was conducted with large samples,
and the researchers controlled for a wide range of possible
extraneous variables. Nevertheless, it was the density of
neighborhood diversity that appeared to lead to a dimin-
ished sense of community within these neighborhoods.
Putnam’s findings have also unfortunately been misused
politically. Some commentators, for instance, have used the
results to ‘‘confirm’’ the dangers associated with desegre-
gation efforts, warning of the ‘‘inevitable’’ conflicts within
US communities should immigration levels continue at a
steady rate. Yet negative outcomes resulting from the co-
existence of diverse groups is anything but inevitable.
There are a host of differences between Putnam’s
sociological study and the current community psychologi-
cal examination of Oxford House. The samples sizes, the
samples, the designs, that residents in one study were
neighbors (Putnam’s study) and in the other co-habitants
and often roommates (the present study) are all key vari-
ations. Despite these contextual differences, there are
worthwhile lessons in the divergent results—how diversity
and proximity can in one instance lead to less tolerance
(Putnam’s study) and how, in another, it can enhance tol-
erance (the present study).
The most important difference may relate to the mere
contact hypothesis versus the more integrative models of
prejudice reduction. In the case of Putnam’s (2007) study,
the contact between the groups was rather minimal, par-
ticularly contrasted to the far more interactive and shared
striving of residents in Oxford House to meet their super-
ordinate community goal (i.e., overcoming addiction).
In other words, given the relatively strong methodology,
analysis, and interpretation of the Putnam findings, the
study is likely replicable. In these communities, it is
probably also reversible. These findings should be taken as
a challenge, particularly to community psychologists who
Am J Community Psychol (2009) 44:188–195193
are perhaps most familiar with creating larger-scale inter-
ventions that could help build tolerance and an overall
greater sense of community.
The present study on tolerance in naturalistic and ther-
apeutic intentional communities may provide clues about
how to best collaboratively work to build shared goals,
mutual help orientations, positive communications, and
thereby strengthen norms of diversity and universality.
This can be done between individuals, within homes, larger
neighborhoods, and even nations—all of which equally
represent the real meaning of ‘‘community’’.
bode-Dada, Kathy Sledge, and Bertel Williams for their contributions
to the project. Funding for this project was supported by NIAAA
(grant number AA12218).
The authors express gratitude to Olushola Ola-
Aboud, F. E., & Levy, S. R. (2000). Interventions to reduce prejudice
and discrimination in children and adolescents. In S. Oskamp
(Ed.), Reducing prejudice and discrimination. The Claremont
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Allport, G. (1955). Becoming: Basic considerations for a psychology
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