Background Social integration of people with intellectual disability (ID) moving into regular neighbourhoods tends to be studied and evaluated without detailed knowledge about the social psychological aspects of everyday interaction between neighbours with and without ID. The goal of the present paper is to show how the authors' social psychological research programme may contribute to this field of inquiry.
Methods The different ways in which societies respond to features and behaviours that may be perceived as deviant are theoretically analysed. Results of empirical studies are reported to clarify how social responses to people with ID are special in terms of perceptions, emotions and interaction desires of people with and without ID during a pre-contact and contact phase.
Results On the basis of the theoretical analysis, it is concluded that regular neighbouring in modern Western society often takes the form of benevolent tolerance, rather than stigmatisation and prejudice. However, empirical studies reveal that, prior to getting people with ID as new neighbours, prospective neighbours without ID experience a specific pattern of emotions that are associated with specific desires (e.g. with respect to information supply or a caring relationship). These anticipatory reactions are dependent on the expected size of the group moving in and on the severity of ID. Furthermore, while actually engaging in neighbouring, neighbours with and without ID appear to have experiences related to behaviour of residents, staff and features of housing facilities that are perceived as (in)congruent with regular neighbouring.
Conclusions It is concluded that interpersonal relationships between neighbours with and without ID should not be simplified in terms of attitudes that would be primarily prejudiced/stigmatising versus entirely accepting. Rather, our studies paint a more complex picture of sometimes ambivalent thoughts, feelings and interaction needs that all should be taken into account to make social integration a success.