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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

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.

In enduring intergroup conflicts, rival groups often both suffer and cause harm. Despite this factual reality, members of each group tend to view themselves as having suffered more than the other groups (Noor, Brown, & Prentice, 2008; Noor, Shnabel, Halabi, & Nadler, 2012) and tend to downplay or even deny the responsibility for their group's harmdoing (Bar-Tal, 2000; Staub, 1998). Focusing on ingroup victimization can cause considerable challenge for intergroup reconciliation (cf. Worthington, 2006), which can be understood as the process of building positive relationships between groups with a history of conflict (Wessells & Bretherton, 2000). A crucial step toward reconciliation is the development of an openness and willingness to (re)engage in positive direct cross-group contact. Despite knowing a great deal about what happens when different group members come into direct contact (Brown & Hewstone, 2005; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011), much less is known about the conditions and the processes that make contact between groups more likely in the first place (Esses & Dovidio, 2002). This is particularly the case in postconflict societies. Thus, our study addresses the question: After a civil war, how can people be encouraged to become more willing to engage in contact with members of a former adversary group?

We propose that changing the way people construe their group's role during the conflict can contribute to restoring positive intergroup relations. We investigated, for the first time, the malleability of people's perceptions of their group's role during a conflict with reciprocal harmdoing, and how this affects psychological factors that are relevant for the reconciliation process. We theorized that a focus on ingroup perpetration should amplify a need for acceptance, which should increase intergroup empathy and lead to greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact. Further, we assumed that focusing on ingroup victimization should amplify a need for empowerment, which should decrease intergroup empathy and lead to lesser willingness to engage in cross-group contact.

ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

Previous research on interpersonal relations indicates that people who have been victimized and people who have inflicted harm differ in their perceptions and descriptions of the events (Baumeister, 1996). For instance, victimized people tend to emphasize the responsibilities of those who inflicted harm as well as to overestimate the severity, illegitimacy, and lasting consequences of the harmful acts. In contrast, those who inflicted harm tend to underestimate the severity and illegitimacy of their acts, emphasizing mitigating circumstances, which in turn allows them to diminish their responsibilities (Baumeister, 1996; Baumeister, Stillwell, & Wotman, 1990; Kearns & Fincham, 2005; Stillwell & Baumeister, 1997).

Victimized people also differ from those who inflicted harm concerning their needs (Nadler & Shnabel, 2008). The needs-based model of reconciliation (Nadler & Shnabel, 2008) proposes that victimized people experience threats related to their sense of control and power because they were unable to control the situation or were not powerful enough to prevent it (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994; Brewin, Dalgleish, & Joseph, 1996; Foster & Rusbult, 1999). In response to this, victimized people experience an amplified need for empowerment in order to restore the dimension of their identity that has suffered from the victimization. On the other side, those who inflicted harm experience a serious threat to their social image as a morally upstanding and respected group (Gausel & Leach, 2011; Gausel, Leach, Vignoles, & Brown, 2012; Tavuchis, 1991). Consequently, they experience an amplified need to regain acceptance from relevant others in order to restore their threatened identity (Gausel, 2013; Gausel & Leach, 2011; Nadler & Shnabel, 2008).

The needs-based model of reconciliation proposes that if the need for empowerment of those who have been victimized and the need for acceptance of those who inflicted harm are fulfilled, readiness for reconciliation should increase. Empirical research in interpersonal and intergroup contexts supports these predictions (Shnabel & Nadler, 2008; Shnabel, Nadler, Ullrich, Dovidio, & Carmi, 2009).

However, as the needs-based model of reconciliation focuses on a within-social role comparison (i.e., comparing persons' readiness for reconciliation before and after receiving a need-fulfilling intervention; e.g., Shnabel et al., 2009), we expand on, and diverge from, the previous research on this model. In a community population that has both suffered and inflicted harm on others, we investigated whether focusing on ingroup victimization or on ingroup perpetration can affect the need for acceptance and the need for empowerment, and how the mere amplification of these needs affect psychological factors that are important for the reconciliation process.

Adopting a motivational psychological approach (Murray, 1938), we assume that when a psychological need is amplified, it affects emotions and cognitions and elicits goal-oriented behavior designed to satisfy the specific need. As we elaborate in the succeeding texts, we propose that amplifying the need for acceptance or the need for empowerment can affect intergroup empathy and willingness to engage in cross-group contact, both of which are preconditions for the actual reconciliatory social exchange of asking and granting forgiveness. Thus, the focus in the present research is on a between-social role comparison (i.e., comparing whether thinking about ingroup perpetration or ingroup victimization can amplify one or the other of these two needs in people of the same population, and also how this affects intergroup empathy and willingness to engage in cross-group contact).

NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

In many intergroup conflicts, it is not possible to draw a sharp line between the group who has been victimized and the group who inflicted harm, but most people involved tend to construe their own group as “victim” rather than as “perpetrator” (Bar-Tal, 2000; Noor, Brown, & Prentice, 2008; Staub, 1998).

Identifying the ingroup as victimized might be a barrier to restoring positive intergroup relations. Previous research showed that the perception of ingroup victimization has been found associated with a decrease in intergroup trust (Noor, Brown, Gonzalez, Manzi, & Lewis, 2008; Noor, Brown, & Prentice, 2008), a decrease in acknowledgment of ingroup's responsibility for the conflict (Čehajić & Brown, 2010), and a decrease in willingness to forgive (McLernon, Cairns, & Hewstone, 2002; Noor, Brown, Gonzalez, et al., 2008; Noor, Brown, & Prentice, 2008). More seriously, the tendency to see one's group as victimized can also increase the likelihood of aggressive retaliatory acts (Lickel, 2012; Lickel, Miller, Stenstrom, Denson, & Schmader, 2006) and even legitimize violence toward a third group not involved in the original conflict (Bar-On, 2001; Wohl & Branscombe, 2008).

One way to counter the destructive responses that emerge from identifying the ingroup as victimized is to encourage people to acknowledge that each side has not only suffered harm but also inflicted harm (e.g., Bar-Tal, 2000; Nadler & Shnabel, 2011). However, acknowledgment that one's group contributed destructively to the conflict can have simultaneous opposing effects on intergroup relations (cf. Castano & Giner-Sorolla, 2006; Čehajić, Brown, & Castano, 2008). On the one hand, it can threaten the moral identity of the group (Branscombe, Ellemers, Spears, & Doosje, 1999; Gausel & Leach, 2011; Tavuchis, 1991) and therefore can motivate psychological distancing from or even a dehumanization of those who have been victimized (e.g., Castano & Giner-Sorolla, 2006; Čehajić et al., 2008; Worthington, 2006). On the other hand, there is substantial empirical evidence showing that acknowledgment of past transgressions committed by one's group can have positive effects for present-day intergroup relations (e.g., Čehajić, Brown, & Gonzalez, 2009; Gausel et al., 2012; Iyer, Schmader, & Lickel, 2007; McGarty et al., 2005) and actually promote offers of restitution (Gausel et al., 2012) and the desire to change the ingroup's identity and behavior (Gausel & Brown, 2012).1

Thus, even though assuming the responsibility for the ingroup's harmful acts is psychologically distressing (Gausel et al., 2012), it can also produce a need for acceptance and belonging (Nadler & Shnabel, 2008), which in turn can trigger processes that contribute to restoring positive intergroup relations. In line with this, previous research at the interpersonal level shows that people with an amplified need for belonging report decreased self-awareness and increased awareness of—and motivation to affiliate with—others (e.g., Hess & Pickett, 2010; Lakin, Chartrand, & Arkin, 2008; Maner, DeWall, Baumeister, & Schaller, 2007; Twenge, Catanese, & Baumeister, 2003). Consequently, we propose that the need for acceptance should direct attention toward others who can offer the acceptance one needs. For those who have inflicted harm, the acceptance that can be granted by those who have been victimized is particularly valuable. Hence, the need for acceptance may result in empathizing with those who have been victimized, and this empathy should lead to a greater willingness to approach them.

NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

The perception of victimization often stems from situations in which individuals or groups were not powerful enough to resist and protect themselves from the power of others or from situations in which they were hindered from actualizing their own interests and goals (see Hollander & Offermann, 1990 for a discussion of different forms of power). As a consequence of the experience of powerlessness, the needs-based model of reconciliation (Nadler & Shnabel, 2008) proposes that the need for empowerment is the predominant need, which is amplified among those who identify as victimized.

How might an amplified need for empowerment affect willingness to engage in cross-group contact? Previous research on both interpersonal and intergroup relations suggests that the perception of victimization might be associated with a focus on the self and the ingroup. For instance, feeling victimized in an interpersonal context led to more selfish thoughts, less attention to the needs of others, and less prosocial behaviors (Zitek, Jordan, Monin, & Leach, 2010). Feeling victimized in an intergroup context was associated with decreased intergroup empathy (Chaitin & Steinberg, 2008; Noor, Brown, Gonzalez, et al., 2008) and decreased intergroup perspective taking (Čehajić & Brown, 2010). We propose that one possible reason for such a victimhood-related self-focus might be the amplified need for empowerment. Specifically, we propose that an amplified need for empowerment might direct the attention toward the ingroup, its suffering, and ways that its agency can be restored (cf. Bar-Tal, Chernyak-Hai, Schori, & Gundar, 2009) so that future occurrences of harmdoing can be prevented and the ingroup's interests and goals (e.g., safety, prosperity, and well-being) can be realized. As the focus is now on the ingroup and its need for empowerment, this might result in less empathy for and less willingness to approach the former adversary.

PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

There is ample evidence showing that intergroup empathy, as other-oriented emotion, is a proximal predictor of more positive intergroup attitudes and intergroup behaviors (e.g., Batson & Ahmad, 2009; Dovidio et al., 2010). For instance, the development of intergroup empathy reduces prejudice (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011), increases the willingness to engage in cross-group contact (Milgram, Geisis, Katz, & Haskaya, 2008), and promotes intergroup cooperation (Cohen & Insko, 2008).

Intergroup empathy also contributes to rebuilding positive intergroup relations after violent intergroup conflicts. For example, in the context of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland or the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the more people expressed intergroup empathy, the more they also reported readiness to forgive the former adversary (Čehajić et al., 2008; Noor, Brown, Gonzalez, et al., 2008; Tam et al., 2008) and to provide restitution for ingroup transgressions (Brown & Čehajić, 2008).

One way to evoke intergroup empathy is by remembering or being reminded about transgressions committed by one's group. Being confronted with the transgressions committed by fellow ingroup members can lead to the acknowledgment of one's group responsibility, which in turn can increase the experience of empathy toward the harmed outgroup (Čehajić et al., 2009; Gausel et al., 2012).

Therefore, intergroup empathy seems to be an appropriate additional mediator of our predicted relationship between focusing on ingroup perpetration versus ingroup victimization and willingness to approach the former adversary. Thus, our prediction is that focusing on ingroup perpetration should lead to an amplified need for acceptance, which because it focuses attention on the outgroup (e.g., the group that can provide acceptance and help the group regain its lost moral standing) should lead directly to an interest in cross-group contact. However, this amplified need for acceptance should also increase intergroup empathy, which in turn should heighten willingness to engage in contact with the former adversary. In contrast, focusing on ingroup victimization should lead to an amplified need for empowerment, which because it focuses attention towards one's ingroup (e.g., its suffering and the pursuit of having its agency restored), should lead directly to lower interest in cross-group contact. This amplified need for empowerment should also decrease intergroup empathy, which in turn should also decrease the willingness to approach the former adversary.

THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

The West African Republic of Liberia was founded in 1847 mainly by former African slaves from the USA. For more than a century, their descendants ruled the country and oppressed the rest of the ethnically diverse population (cf. Moran, 2008; Oyebade, 2008). In 1980, Samuel Doe overthrew the government and became the first president that belonged to one of the 16 indigenous ethnic groups. In 1989, Charles Taylor launched a rebellion against Doe that precipitated the outbreak of two consecutive civil wars that lasted until 2003. Although the various parties in the conflict were warlords with their political fractions, ethnicity was in many situations used as a basis for determining who was allowed to live and who was killed during the anarchic and extremely violent fighting. None of the country's ethnic groups remained unaffected by the civil wars, and it could be argued that all groups were perpetrators and victims of violence. In 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the president of Liberia; and the postwar era began.

In this context, we investigated whether it was possible to systematically influence how people construe their group's role after an intergroup conflict with reciprocal harmdoing, and how this affected needs, empathy, and willingness to engage in cross-group contact. Participants were randomly assigned to think about incidents of harmdoing during the wars that were either committed by fellow ingroup members (perpetrator-focus) or against fellow ingroup members (victim-focus). We predicted that participants in the perpetrator-focus condition, compared with those in the victim-focus condition, would have greater need for acceptance, lesser need for empowerment, greater intergroup empathy, and greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact.

More specifically, we proposed a model in which the need for acceptance would not only have a direct effect on willingness to engage in contact but would also have an indirect effect mediated by an increase in intergroup empathy. Similarly, we hypothesized that the need for empowerment would, in addition to having a direct effect on interest in contact, have an indirect effect mediated by a decrease in intergroup empathy.

METHOD

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

Participants

One hundred and forty-six Liberians (73 women, 66 men; 7 participants did not indicate their gender) between 16 and 51 years of age (M = 27.80, standard deviation (SD) = 7.92; 34 participants did not indicate their age) from 16 ethnic groups participated in exchange for a small monetary compensation.

Procedure and Materials

The study was conducted in April 2009 on the outskirts of Monrovia (the capital of Liberia) in collaboration with a local nongovernmental organization. Three Liberian research assistants were trained to carry out the study and to deal with emotionally upsetting situations that could potentially emerge during data collection. Participants were approached at public places, at their work places, and at their homes and offered the opportunity to take part in a study addressing the Liberian wars and reconciliation. They were informed that participation in the study was entirely voluntary and anonymous and that they could stop answering the questionnaire at any time without disclosing their reasons and without any consequences. Those who agreed and signed an informed consent sheet were handed a questionnaire containing all further instructions. The research assistants helped participants complete the questionnaire, explained words or instructions that respondents did not understand, and transformed it into an interview situation for illiterate people.

The questionnaire was in English and consisted of three sections. In the first section, participants estimated how many people of their ethnic group had been killed or severely harmed during the war, and how many people of other Liberian ethnic groups had been killed or severely harmed by their own tribe during the war. Following this, participants were asked to write down which ethnic group had caused most harm to their own ethnic group, as well as which other ethnic group had been most harmed by their own ethnic group during the wars. These questions served mainly to investigate whether participants in the two conditions differed systematically in their perceptions of collective perpetration and collective victimization before the introduction of the experimental manipulation.

In the second section of the questionnaire, we randomly assigned participants to one of the two experimental conditions. Participants in the perpetrator-focus condition were given the following instructions: “Please take some time to think about an episode of how people from your tribe caused harm to people from that tribe during the wars you have just indicated. Please write down in a few sentences: When and where the episode happened and what harm was caused and to whom?” In the victim-focus condition, the first sentence was changed to “Please take some time to think about an episode of how people from your tribe were harmed by people from that tribe you have just indicated.” All other instructions were identical. Hence, the only difference between the conditions was the focus of being a member of either a group that inflicted harm or a group that was harmed.

In the third section, we assessed the mediators and dependent variables. Unless otherwise noted, the measures used were developed by the authors for this specific research context. All items were responded to on scales ranged from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much), and participants' scores on each scale were computed by averaging across items, with higher scores reflecting more extreme response in the direction of the construct assessed.

Willingness to engage in cross-group contact (α = .76) was measured with four items: “I would be happy if my children played with and were friends with children from all other Liberian tribes,” “I can imagine having a close friend belonging to any other Liberian tribe,” “Working together with a person from any other Liberian tribe would be no problem for me,” and “I would feel okay if some of my neighbours were persons who belong to the tribe that harmed my tribe during the war.”

Need for empowerment (r = .42, p < .001) was measured with two items: “I want my tribe to have more control” and “I want my tribe to have more power.”

Need for acceptance (r = .60, p < .001) was measured with two items: “I want people of that tribe to like us” and “I would like people of that tribe to understand us.”

Intergroup empathy (r = .57, p < .001) was measured with two items validated by previous research (Tam et al., 2008) but modified to fit the Liberian context: “I feel sorry for people from other tribes when they are having problems” and “When I see someone from other tribes treated unfairly, I feel pity for them.”

Having completed the questionnaire, participants were thanked and thoroughly debriefed.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

Estimation of Collective Victimization and Collective Perpetration

Participants were asked before the manipulation to estimate the percentage of (i) how many people of their ethnic group were killed or severely harmed during the wars; and (ii) how many people of other Liberian ethnic groups were killed or severely harmed by people of their ethnic group. As expected, participants in the two conditions did not differ significantly in their estimation of collective victimhood, Mvictim = 38.31 (SD = 21.47) vs. Mperpetrator = 39.48 (SD = 24.86), F(1, 140) = 0.09, p = .766 (ηp2 = 0.00), nor in their estimation of collective perpetration, Mvictim = 35.61 (SD = 23.08) vs. Mperpetrator = 35.79 (SD = 23.22), F(1, 140) = 0.00, p = .963 (ηp2 = 0.00). Hence, we could rest assure that participants in the two conditions did not differ systematically in their perceptions of collective perpetration and collective victimization before they were introduced to the experimental manipulation.

Content Analysis

We performed a content analysis on written responses describing the incidents of harmdoing to investigate whether participants described episodes of victimization in the victim-focus condition and episodes of perpetration in the perpetrator-focus condition. Specifically, we coded for each episode whether it described a situation of victimization (coded as 0, no victimization; 1, victimization) and whether it described a situation of perpetration (coded as 0, no perpetration; 1, perpetration). Two raters, blind to the procedure and aim of the study, independently coded the content of the written responses. Inter-rater agreement was 91%, and inter-rater reliability was high; Cohen's (1960) kappa ranged from κ = 0.70 to κ = 0.93. Nine participants did not write down any episode (six in the perpetrator-focus and three in the victim-focus condition). A Fisher's exact test revealed that there were no significant associations between experimental condition and reporting an episode, p = .500.

As expected, participants in the victim-focus condition described significantly more episodes in which ingroup members were harmed (100%), compared with those in the perpetrator-focus condition (51%), χ2(1, N = 137) = 43.70, p < .001 (Cramér's V = 0.57). Participants in the perpetrator-focus condition described, as expected, significantly more episodes in which ingroup members inflicted harm upon members of other ethnic groups (66%), compared with those in the victim-focus condition (9%), χ2(1, N = 137) = 47.03, p < .001 (Cramér's V = 0.59).2 In sum, these results imply that the focus manipulation led to the desired effect of remembering an episode of victimization in the collective victim-focus condition and remembering an episode of perpetration in the collective perpetrator-focus condition.

Further, because previous research provided evidence that those who have been victimized and those who inflicted harm tend to describe interpersonal transgressions in distorted and self-serving ways (e.g., Baumeister et al., 1990; Stillwell & Baumeister, 1997), we also coded for explorative purposes, whether the episodes systematically differed in regard to (i) the number of details describing the episode (e.g., time, place, involved ethnic groups, acts; coded as 1–4 details or more); (ii) participants' or their family's involvement in the episode (coded as 0, not involved; 1, involved); and finally, (iii) reasons provided for the episode (e.g., social structures, revenge, and self-defense; coded as 0, no reason mentioned; 1, reason mentioned).

The additional coding revealed that participants in the perpetrator-focus condition, compared with those in the victim-focus condition, mentioned significantly fewer details about the episodes, Mperpetrator = 2.27 (SD = 1.19) vs. Mvictim = 3.23 (SD = 0.87), F(1, 135) = 28.44, p < .001 (ηp2 = 0.17), described significantly fewer episodes in which they themselves were involved (21% vs. 38%), χ2(1, N = 137) = 4.64, p = .031 (Cramér's V = 0.18), and mentioned significantly more often reasons that led to the episodes (46% vs. 18%), χ2(1, N = 137) = 12.42, p < .001 (Cramér's V = 0.30). The difference between the experimental conditions in the description whether a member of their family was involved or not in the episodes only approached significance (6% vs. 15%), χ2(1, N = 137) = 3.38, p = .066 (Cramér's V = 0.16). Overall, these results seemed to imply that the collective perpetrator-focus was accompanied by a psychological distancing and justification for past transgressions committed by ingroup members.

Tests of Experimental Effects

We predicted that participants in the perpetrator-focus condition, compared with those in the victim-focus condition, would have greater need for acceptance, greater intergroup empathy, greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact, and lesser need for empowerment. To test these predictions, we conducted a multivariate ANOVA using condition as the independent variable; and willingness to engage in cross-group contact, need for acceptance, need for empowerment, and intergroup empathy as the dependent variables (refer to Table 1 for means and SDs and Table 2 for intercorrelations of all measures).

Table 1. Means and standard deviations (in parentheses) for measured variables
 Perpetrator-focusVictim-focus
VariableM (SD)M (SD)
  1. Note: For all scales, higher scores are indicative of more extreme response in the direction of the construct assessed. Different superscripts denote significant differences between conditions.

  2. p < .05.

Willingness to engage in cross-group contact5.13 (1.48)a3.92 (1.23)b
Intergroup empathy5.24 (1.65)a3.79 (1.73)b
Need for acceptance5.50 (1.64)a4.20 (1.63)b
Need for empowerment4.09 (1.82)a3.96 (1.40)a
Table 2. Intercorrelations for measured variables
Variable1.2.3.4.
  • Note: Correlations for perpetrator-focus (victim-focus) condition above (below) the diagonal.

  • *

    p < .05;

  • p < .10.

1. Willingness to engage in cross-group contact.72*.55*.19
2. Intergroup empathy.42*.50*.06
3. Need for acceptance.58*.31*.10
4. Need for empowerment.24.35*.30*

Using Pillai's trace, there was a significant overall effect of the focus manipulation on the assessed dependent variables, V = 0.22, F(4, 135) = 9.22, p < .001 (ηp2 = 0.22). In line with our predictions, separate univariate ANOVAs revealed that compared with those in the victim-focus condition, participants in the perpetrator-focus condition reported significantly greater need for acceptance, F(1, 138) = 22.10, p < .001 (ηp2 = 0.14), greater intergroup empathy, F(1, 138) = 25.80, p < .001 (ηp2 = 0.16), and greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact, F(1, 138) = 26.85, p < .001 (ηp2 = 0.16). However, contrary to our prediction, there was no significant effect of the manipulation on need for empowerment, F(1, 138) = 0.21, p = .650 (ηp2 = 0.00).

Further, we predicted that the need for acceptance and need for empowerment would differentially influence participants' experience of intergroup empathy and willingness to engage in cross-group contact. Specifically, we predicted that the need for acceptance would not only have a direct effect on willingness to engage in contact but would also have an indirect effect mediated by an increase in intergroup empathy. Similarly, we predicted that the need for empowerment would, in addition to having a direct effect on interest in contact, have an indirect effect mediated by a decrease in intergroup empathy.

We tested our predictions using a regression-based extended mediational model with manifest variables and bootstrapping procedures (10 000 resamples; cf. Preacher & Hayes, 2008). The model considered the relations between the focus manipulation (dichotomously coded; 0,victim-focus; 1, perpetrator-focus) and willingness to engage in cross-group contact as outcome variable and included the assumed sequential meditational paths (need for acceptance, need for empowerment on intergroup empathy).

As shown in Figure 1, the focus manipulation predicted greater need for acceptance, b = 1.30, SE = 0.28, β = .37, p < .001, but did not predict the need for empowerment, b = 0.13, SE = 0.27, β = .04, p = .647. Need for acceptance predicted greater intergroup empathy, b = 0.40, SE = 0.09, β = .38, p < .001, which in turn predicted greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact, b = 0.34, SE = 0.06, β = .42, p < .001. Besides these indirect effects, the focus manipulation also directly predicted greater intergroup empathy, b = 0.92, SE = 0.29, β = .25, p = .002, and need for acceptance also directly predicted greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact, b = 0.32, SE = 0.07, β = .37, p < .001. Need for empowerment did not predict intergroup empathy, b = 0.12, SE = 0.08, β = .10, p = .163, nor willingness to engage in cross-group contact, b = 0.06, SE = 0.06, β = .06, p = .337. Including the mediators in the regression analysis weakened substantially the strength between the manipulation and willingness to engage in cross-group contact (before inclusion of the mediators: b = 1.20, SE = 0.23, β = .40, p < .001; after inclusion of the mediator: b = 0.29, SE = 0.19, β = .10, p = .135).

image

Figure 1. Path model showing the relationships between the focus manipulation and willingness to engage in cross-group contact via need for empowerment/need for acceptance and intergroup empathy. Numbers attached to arrows indicate standardized regression weights

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In line with our predictions, there was a significant indirect effect of the focus manipulation on willingness to engage in cross-group contact via the need for acceptance and intergroup empathy. The point estimate for this indirect effect equated to 0.18 (SE = 0.06), with the 95% bias corrected confidence interval (BC CI) bounded by 0.083 and 0.346. Contrary to our prediction there was no significant indirect effect of the focus manipulation on willingness to engage in cross-group contact via need for empowerment and intergroup empathy, PE = 0.01, SE = 0.01, 95% BC CI [−0.013, 0.050].3

DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

In the present study, we raised the question of what could promote willingness to engage in cross-group contact after conflicts with reciprocal harmdoing. We theorized and provided evidence that the way in which people appraise their group's role in such conflicts is crucial for restoring harmonious intergroup relations. Participants encouraged to focus on ingroup victimization compared with those encouraged to focus on ingroup perpetration described significantly more episodes of ingroup suffering and significantly less episodes of ingroup harmdoing. This meant not only that our focus manipulation had been successful but also that it is possible to experimentally induce a psychological frame that affects how people construe their group's role in conflicts with reciprocal harmdoing. Moreover, as far as we are aware, we showed for the first time that construing these different psychological roles influenced several factors that are relevant for the reconciliation process.

In line with our hypotheses, participants encouraged to focus on ingroup perpetration reported significantly greater need for acceptance, greater intergroup empathy, and greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact. These findings add empirical support to the evidence that assuming the responsibility for the ingroup's contribution to an intergroup conflict can have positive effects for present-day intergroup relations (e.g., Čehajić et al., 2009; Gausel & Brown, 2012; Gausel et al., 2012; Iyer et al., 2007; McGarty et al., 2005). They also support the needs-based model of reconciliation's claim that people who inflicted harm have a greater need for acceptance than those who have been victimized (Nadler & Shnabel, 2008).

Construing the ingroup as victim seemed to be psychologically more accessible than construing the ingroup as perpetrator. Participants wrote more readily about episodes in which ingroup members had been harmed compared with episodes in which ingroup members had inflicted harm upon others (see Sahdra & Ross, 2007, for comparable findings). Although participants in the perpetrator-focus condition were asked to remember an episode of collective perpetration, half of them also provided descriptions of the suffering that fellow ingroup members had experienced. Hence, at least half of the participants in the perpetrator-focus condition perceived themselves as also belonging to a victimized group. This shared perception of victimization across the two conditions may explain why participants did not differ in their need for empowerment. The failure of the manipulation to affect the need for empowerment might also explain why the data did not support our prediction that greater need for empowerment results in decreased intergroup empathy and lower interest in cross-group contact. However, it also reflects the widespread perception of victimhood in the contemporary Liberian society. For instance, a recent nationwide representative survey with over 4500 respondents (Vinck, Pham, & Kreutzer, 2011) revealed that 78% of Liberians considered themselves as victims of the civil wars.

The written episodes in the perpetrator-focus condition as compared with those in the victim-focus condition included fewer details, reported lesser involvement of participants themselves or members of their family, and contained more justifications for the harm done. Thus, when participants were encouraged to think about ingroup perpetration, they tended to psychologically distance themselves from the episodes as well as justify what happened (see also Baumeister et al., 1990; Stillwell & Baumeister, 1997). Such responses are not surprising because people typically strive to maintain a positive self-image of the group to which they belong and therefore try to avoid such identity threats (Baumeister & Hastings, 1997; Peetz, Gunn, & Wilson, 2010; Tajfel & Turner, 1979).

Čehajić and colleagues (2009) proposed that being confronted with the harm caused by one's group can affect intergroup relations via two simultaneous opposing psychological paths (see also Castano & Giner-Sorolla, 2006): a moral disengagement path, when people distance from ingroup responsibility and dehumanize those who have been victimized; and a moral engagement path, when people assume responsibility and empathize with those who have been victimized. The fact that empathy and willingness to engage in cross-group contact increased as a consequence of the manipulation implies the occurrence of moral engagement. However, the results of the content analysis also indicate that moral disengagement might have occurred. To maximize the positive effects of remembering ingroup transgression, further research could include measures of defensiveness and identify factors that can reduce psychological distancing. For instance, highlighting cultural similarities with the victimized group can help members of the group that inflicted harm to decrease the dehumanization and to develop moral emotions and positive attitudes toward the other group when reminded of what their group had done (Kofta & Sławuta, 2013).

Further, the described episodes also systematically differed in their level of abstraction. This suggests that depending upon the psychological role construction, different cognitive processes are involved. The more abstract descriptions of perpetration may have elicited a more global processing that is associated with conceptual approach and promotion focus (Förster, 2012; Förster & Dannenberg, 2010). Further research could investigate more systematically how global versus local processing are associated with different appraisals of the ingroup's role in conflicts with reciprocal harmdoing, and how they affect reconciliatory attitudes.

Although the present research relied on the basic propositions of the needs-based model of reconciliation (Nadler & Shnabel, 2008), we did not test this model specifically (e.g., satisfying the role-specific needs by providing messages of empowerment and acceptance, cf. Shnabel et al., 2009). Our research focuses on a between-role comparison; we investigated whether the different appraisal of one's group role can affect the need for acceptance and the need for empowerment, and how the mere amplification of these needs affect the willingness to approach the former adversary. We showed that the need for acceptance can affect intergroup empathy and willingness to engage in cross-group contact, which are preconditions for the actual reconciliatory social exchange of asking and granting forgiveness (thus the satisfaction of the respective needs). In line with the needs-based model, we are convinced that the actual satisfaction of these basic human needs is crucial for reconciliation.

The needs-based model of reconciliation conceptualizes one group as perpetrator and one group as victim. The present research shows that conflicts in which rival parties have hurt and humiliated each other, victim and perpetrator-foci are not static but contextually construed. Psychological framing (in this study thinking of an episode of collective perpetration versus collective victimization) affects how people think and feel toward the outgroup. The needs-based model necessitates that the group who inflicted harm acknowledges their wrongdoing and takes the difficult step of apologizing and asking for forgiveness. However, this is often prevented by the group's perception of actually having been the victim. Our findings suggest that in a conflict with reciprocal harmdoing, remembering ingroup perpetration can indeed be a useful step to overcome the “trap of double victimhood” (Nadler & Shnabel, 2011, p. 214). It may also enhance mutual apologies, which in some postconflict contexts may be the way toward peaceful coexistence.

Previous research on the needs-based model (e.g., Shnabel et al., 2009) was conducted in intergroup contexts in which the “victim–perpetrator relations” were clearly drawn out (e.g., Jews–Germans) or the conflict was still ongoing (e.g., Israelis–Palestinians). In contrast, the Liberian context is marked by a shared perception of victimhood, nonconsensual victim and perpetrator roles, intergroup relations that in the last decade moved from conflict to coexistence, as well as a shared desire for a united prospering future. In such a context, reminding people of the atrocities, their group had committed might increase their willingness to approach the former adversary because of the fear that the newly achieved coexistence might be ruptured. More research is needed in order to investigate whether the reported findings in Liberia generalize to other postconflict contexts.

We proposed that the need for acceptance and the need for empowerment are attended by different attention foci, which in turn affect the experience of empathy toward outgroup members and the willingness to approach them. Specifically, we proposed that an amplified need for acceptance directs the attention toward others, who can provide them with the acceptance that one needs, whereas an amplified need for empowerment directs the attention toward one's ingroup, its suffering, and lack of power. Thus, the perception of victimization is attended by a unique kind of self-focus that might emerge from feelings of victimization and the need for empowerment. However, given the naturalistic setting of our study—a questionnaire-based field experiment in a postwar community context—we did not directly measure the attention foci per se. Rather, we investigated the direct effects of the need for acceptance and the need for empowerment on intergroup empathy and willingness to engage in cross-group contact. Thus, future (laboratory) research might investigate in a more systematic manner whether the amplified needs are indeed attended by different attention foci. If so, then one might be able to test directly how the effects of need for acceptance and need for empowerment influence intergroup empathy and willingness to engage in cross-group contact via different attention foci.

The present research illustrated that it is beneficial for rebuilding positive intergroup relations after conflicts with reciprocal harmdoing to widen the perspective of one's group role. However, some cautionary remarks are indicated: First, those who have been victimized may only be able to widen their group's role in the conflict after the “hot” phase of the conflict has ended, and after some basic healing has already taken place (cf. Staub, 1998). Second, acknowledgment of (past) collective harmdoing may depend upon one's own personal contribution to the violence. The greater one's own contribution, and thus the greater the personal responsibility for the harmdoing, the less a person may be willing to acknowledge past transgressions. Third, need for acceptance will most likely result in positive outcomes if people believe that engaging in these favorable activities will lead to the fulfillment of their needs (DeWall & Richman, 2011; Maner et al., 2007). Fourth, all groups involved in a conflict can take steps that promote or hinder reconciliation. Our results do not support the notion that the group that perpetrated more atrocities should take the initiative for a reconciliation process or that the victimized group is to blame if reconciliation should fail.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

Our findings showed that appraising the ingroup as victim or perpetrator is largely a matter of psychological construction that can be situationally determined. In conflicts in which rival parties have both been victimized and inflicted harm, situational factors such as the media or third parties can determine whether people experience their group as being “the victim” or “the perpetrator” (cf. Nadler, 2002; Nadler & Shnabel, 2008).

A promising avenue for enhancing intergroup reconciliation consists in widening the ingroup's role by also remembering the harm that the ingroup inflicted upon others. We showed not only that remembering one's ingroup transgression increased willingness to engage in cross-group contact, but we also showed which processes accounted for these effects. The amplified need for acceptance led to increased willingness to engage in cross-group contact both directly and indirectly through increased intergroup empathy.

Thinking about perpetrated transgressions and the harm suffered by other groups might lead to shared responsibility for a conflict, shared victimhood, and create a common identity, which can then facilitate peace-building dialogue among former adversaries. If people are no longer dogmatically attached to a “good versus evil” view of the conflict, then perhaps a place for reconciliation can be reached.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES

This research was supported by doctoral fellowships awarded to the first and second author from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (GRK 622; International Research Training Group Conflict and Cooperation Between Social Groups). The authors would like to thank Stéphanie Demoulin, Roger Giner-Sorolla, Stephen Wright, and one anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments on a previous version of this article.

  1. 1

    The malleability of construing one's group as victim or perpetrator might only be possible in intergroup conflict situations where there is not a large agreed-upon disparity in power and violent action. Some of the quoted studies stem from intergroup contexts with such disparity. Nevertheless, they show that assuming the responsibility for past transgressions committed by the ingroup can have positive effects for present-day intergroup relations.

  2. 2

    Not all participants in the perpetrator-focus condition reported an episode of collective perpetration, and a large number also reported episodes of collective victimization. This could raise the question whether our perpetrator-focus induction was successful. Therefore, we tested whether participants in the perpetrator-focus condition who reported an episode of collective perpetration differed systematically from those who did not. Also, we investigated whether participants in the perpetrator-focus condition who reported episodes of collective victimization differed from those in the victim-focus condition. Indicating support of successful induction of a perpetrator-focus, there were no significant differences on any of the measured variables (all ps > .05) between those who reported an episode of collective harmdoing and those who did not. Further, participants in the perpetrator-focus condition who reported episodes of victimization differed significantly from those in the victim-focus condition on most of the measured variables: need for acceptance, F(1, 98) = 15.82, p < .001 (ηp2 = 0.14), intergroup empathy, F(1, 98) = 10.76, p = .001 (ηp2 = 0.10), willingness to engage in cross-group contact, F(1, 98) = 17.58, p < .001 (ηp2 = 0.15) but not on need for empowerment, F(1, 98) = 0.28, p = .599 (ηp2 = 0.00).

  3. 3

    In order to take into consideration that participants in the perpetrator-focus condition were resistant to portray their group as the one inflicting harm, and half of them spontaneously mentioned that their group had also been victimized, we reran the analyses of the extended mediational model using an alternative coding of the predictor variable on the basis of the content analysis (−1, for those who mentioned only victimization; 0, for those who mentioned victimization and perpetration; 1, for those who only mentioned perpetration). Replicating the analysis with the dummy-coded experimental manipulation, the predictor variable predicted a greater need for acceptance, b = 0.44, SE = 0.18, β = .20, p = .017, but did not predict significantly need for empowerment, b = 0.02, SE = 0.17, β = .01, p = .903. Need for acceptance predicted greater intergroup empathy, b = 0.44, SE = 0.09, β = .42, p < .001, which in turn predicted greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact, b = 0.36, SE = 0.07, β = .45, p < .001.

    Besides these indirect effects, the predictor variable also directly predicted greater intergroup empathy, b = 0.42, SE = 0.17, β = .18, p = .013 (but not willingness to engage in cross-group contact, b = −0.01, SE = 0.11, β = .00, p = .963), and need for acceptance also directly predicted greater willingness to engage in cross-group contact, b = 0.32, SE = 0.07, β = .38, p < .001. Need for empowerment did not predict significantly intergroup empathy, b = 0.11, SE = 0.10, β = .09, p = .265, nor willingness to engage in cross-group contact, b = 0.04, SE = 0.07, β = .04, p = .570. There was again a significant indirect effect of the focus manipulation on willingness to engage in cross-group contact via the need for acceptance and intergroup empathy, PE = 0.07, SE = 0.04, 95% BC CI [0.016, 0.156]. There was no significant indirect effect of the focus manipulation on willingness to engage in cross-group contact via the need for empowerment and intergroup empathy, PE = 0.00, SE = 0.00, 95% BC CI [−0.013, 0.025].

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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. ROLE-SPECIFIC PERSPECTIVES AND NEEDS FOLLOWING ACTS OF HARMDOING
  4. NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE: FOCUSING ON THE OTHER
  5. NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT: FOCUSING ON THE INGROUP
  6. PREDICTING INTERGROUP EMPATHY BY NEED FOR ACCEPTANCE AND NEED FOR EMPOWERMENT
  7. THE CURRENT RESEARCH (CONTEXT)
  8. METHOD
  9. RESULTS
  10. DISCUSSION
  11. CONCLUDING REMARKS
  12. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  13. REFERENCES
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