In the aftermath of the Liberian civil wars, we investigated whether it is possible to systematically influence how people construe their group's role during the conflict and how this affects intergroup emotions and behavioral intentions. In a field experiment, 146 participants were randomly assigned to think about incidents of violence during the war that were either committed by fellow ingroup members (perpetrator-focus) or against fellow ingroup members (victim-focus). Adopting a perpetrator-focus led to greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact, greater need for acceptance, and greater intergroup empathy. The focus manipulation did not affect participants' need for empowerment.
Key message: Appraising the ingroup as “victim” or “perpetrator” after conflicts with reciprocal harmdoing is largely a matter of psychological construction. A promising avenue for promoting positive cross-group contact consists in widening the ingroup's victim role by also remembering the harm that the ingroup inflicted upon others. This amplifies the need of acceptance, which leads to greater intergroup empathy and greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.