Psychological Antecedents and Consequences of Intergroup Conflict

Countries across the globe are paralyzed by intergroup conflict. Whether driven by interreligious disagreement, racial tensions, or political polarization, understanding the psychological mechanisms and communication barriers that drive intergroup conflict are paramount to reducing it. Thus, in my research program, I focus on isolating the psychological mechanisms that contribute to intergroup conflict and violence and understanding the psychological barriers that make people resistant to attitude and behavior change.

One of my main areas of research focuses on understanding how meta-perceptions (i.e., how you think outgroup members view your ingroup) contribute to intergroup conflict. In particular, I investigated the contribution of partisan meta-perceptions to the breakdown of democracy (for a review see Moore-Berg, Hameiri, & Bruneau, 2020Moore-Berg, Hameiri, & Bruneau, manuscript in prep.; Yaffe, Factor, Moore-Berg, Hameiri, manuscript in prep.). For example, across two studies (Moore-Berg, Ankori-Karlinsky, Hameiri, & Bruneau, 2020), I examined the prevalence, accuracy, and consequences of meta-prejudice and meta-dehumanization among American partisans. Results from a nationally representative sample and a longitudinal sample indicated that although both Democrats and Republicans equally dislike and dehumanize each other, they think that the other side expresses at least twice as much prejudice and dehumanization against them as they do in reality. These negative meta-perceptions are particularly problematic as they predict increased support for policies that threaten democratic norms (such as increased gerrymandering, limiting First Amendment freedoms of outgroup partisans) as well as increased social distancing from partisan outgroup members. Further, results indicated that this negativity bias inhibits bipartisan collaboration, which ultimately can threaten the social fabric of society.

However, erroneous meta-perceptions are not limited to partisan groups. In an analysis of meta-dehumanization in seventeen different samples across five countries, my research suggests that religious groups also harbor inaccurate meta-perceptions about each other (Bruneau, Hameiri, Moore-Berg, & Kteily, 2020). Specifically, when non-Muslims are asked to estimate how much Muslims dehumanize their ingroup, they anticipate that Muslims dehumanize their ingroup much more than reality. Similar patterns emerge in other contexts as well, including Americans’ meta-perceptions about welfare recipients, and Spanishs’, Greeks’ and Hungarians’ meta-perceptions about the Roma.

One notable extension of my research noted thus far is the examination of how these psychological drivers of conflict can in turn contribute to intergroup violence. Thus, in another line of research, weinvestigated the role of perceived victimhood (both trait—victimhood experienced personally, and collective—victimhood experienced by one’s group) on Democrats’ and Republicans’ endorsement of and engagement in political violence. Across four studies, we found that both trait and collective victimhood predicted support for political violence and self-reported engagement in political violence. Further, results from an experimental paradigm showed that effects of collective victimhood on support for political violence may be causal (Hameiri, Moore-Berg, Guillard, Falk, & Bruneau, manuscript in prep.). 

Intergroup Conflict Interventions

My interest in the psychological mechanisms and communication barriers that contribute to intergroup conflict has also fostered my interest in intervening on them. I am committed to developing theory-driven interventions that have real world impact and to identifying the psychological mechanisms of established interventions currently used to fight intergroup conflict.

As my research on the psychological antecedents of intergroup conflict suggests, meta-perceptions are often inaccurate, subject to a negativity bias, and predict intergroup conflict. Thus, one of my main lines of intervention research focuses on how to reduce harmful meta-perceptions and misperceptions more broadly (cf. Moore-Berg, Parelman, Lelkes, & Falk, 2020). Accordingly, in one project, we examined the effect of contact quality on meta-perceptions (Bruneau, Hameiri, Moore-Berg, & Kteily, 2020). Using cross-sectional, longitudinal, and quasi-experimental data from five countries, our research revealed that increased positive contact (not amount of contact) with outgroup members significantly reduces meta-dehumanization toward them. Further, a longitudinal analysis of an American sample showed that contact quality at Time 1 predicts meta-dehumanization at Time 2. Finally, in collaboration with the non-profit organization Soliya, results revealed that a semester-long vicarious contact program between American students and Muslims students from the Middle East and North Africa successfully reduces Americans’ negative meta-perceptions about Muslims. This suggests that contact quality can not only affect the expression of meta-perceptions, but it can be a powerful intervention technique to reduce meta-dehumanization. 

Stemming from this line of research, I sought to further investigate how to correct misperceptions about marginalized groups with the hope of reducing animosity toward them. Across three studies, we examined and intervened on Democrats and Republicans perceptions about the criminality of undocumented immigrants entering the United States at its southern border (Moore-Berg, Hameiri, & Bruneau, 2021). According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), less than 1% of immigrants are gang affiliated and less than 0.1% of child immigrants are being used as props by adults to gain entry into the United States. However, our work suggests that both Democrats and Republicans severely overestimate the percent of immigrants who are affiliated with gangs (11% and 21%, respectively) and the percent of children who are being used as props (24% and 47%, respectively). These overestimations are strongly correlated with increased dehumanization of immigrants, reduced empathy for immigrants’ suffering, and increased support for anti-immigrant policies (such as a child separation policy). Yet by combining both a cognitive (i.e., correcting these misperceptions by showing people the accurate DHS statistics) and affective (i.e., showing an empathy-inducing video about immigrants) intervention, we were able to successfully reduce dehumanization of immigrants, increase empathy toward immigrants, and reduce support for harsh anti-immigrant policies.

I have also developed a series of interventions to combat misperceptions about Muslims. In one project, we utilized an intervention tournament design (Hameiri & Moore-Berg, manuscript in prep.) to compare the effectiveness of eleven anti-Islamophobia intervention videos developed by practitioners and that are currently being used in the field to combat Islamophobia (Moore-Berg, Hameiri, Falk, & Bruneau, in revision). After identifying the successful intervention videos, we conducted five follow-up studies to determine the psychological mechanisms through which these successful videos work. Results indicated that recognition of the anti-Muslim biases in the media was the mechanism through which the successful video worked to reduce anti-Muslim policy support. In another project, we developed a series of interventions that highlight the hypocrisy in collectively praising the ingroup as a whole for prosocial actions of a few ingroup members, but not doing the same for outgroup members (Gallardo, Hameiri, Moore-Berg, & Bruneau, in press). In this intervention, participants first read about the individual acts of Christians engaging in prosocial behaviors and assessed whether these acts are attributable to all Christians. Then, participants read about individual acts of Muslims engaging in prosocial actions and assessed whether these actions are attributable to all Muslims. Results indicated that this paradigm was effective at not only attributing collective praise to all Muslims, but it also reduced dehumanization toward Muslims and anti-Muslim policy support. For both of these projects, we partnered with Muslim rights organizations prior to the start of the studies to tailor these interventions to real world contexts, and following the completion of the projects, we worked with these organizations to disseminate the research to lay audiences (see Moore-Berg, Littman, Gallardo, O'Neil, Pasek, Bernstein, & Hameiri, manuscript in prep. for a similar approach).

Social Category Intersectionality

Race and social class are stereotypically confounded—people stereotypically associate poor with Black and rich with White when only racial cues are salient. This effect is problematic as these assumptions can have negative downstream consequences for everyday interactions. For example, when people maintain these racial-social class associations, they perpetuate social inequalities (e.g., recommending a White person for a high-status job and a Black person for a low-status job).  Yet when these racial-social class associations are challenged, unique attitudes and behaviors arise, as discussed below. (For a review, see Moore-Berg & Karpinski, 2018)

One of my main lines of research has been the investigation of how the interaction of race and social class affects social-cognitive and intergroup processes. In one project, across a series of studies, we examined how the intersection of race and social class affects stereotypes, implicit attitudes, and explicit attitudes (Moore-Berg & Karpinski, in press). In this work, we manipulated both target race and social class in order to assess the effect of race and social class intersectionality on attitudes. Results indicated that increases in target social class attenuated potential negative race biases for within-race comparisons. That is, people had more positive attitudes toward rich Whites than poor Whites and toward rich Blacks than poor Blacks. Yet for within-social-class comparisons, attitudes were more nuanced; people had similar attitudes toward rich Whites and rich Blacks, but they had more context-dependent attitudes toward poor Whites versus poor Blacks. These findings suggest an overall interactive effect between race and social class, which can have downstream consequences for behaviors.

People’s perceptions of race and class can have life or death consequences. For example, in response to high profile cases in which White police officers have shot unarmed Black men, researchers and community members alike have been curious about the effects of social categories on shooting decisions. In this research, we examined how the intersection of suspect race and social class affects shooting decisions (Moore-Berg, Karpinski, & Plant, 2017). Using traditional shooter bias simulations, my work revealed that suspect race and social class interact to influence shooting decisions. That is, participants demonstrated high levels of shooter bias toward all Black suspects and low social class White suspects and low levels of shooter bias toward high social class Whites. These results suggest that social categories that signal danger (as a product of current norms)—such as Black and low social class—affect threat-related responding and, therefore, bias behaviors.

Implicit Social Cognition

Implicit attitudes—attitudes that are outside of our conscious control or awareness—are paramount to intergroup interactions; they affect our views of others, influence our reactions to others, and shape our interactions with others. In this line of research, I seek to understand what the antecedents of implicit attitudes are, what implicit attitudes predict, and how implicit attitudes affect intergroup interactions. Some of my recent work has focused on understanding implicit stigmatization about non-suicidal self-injury (Burke, Piccorillo, Moore-Berg, Heimberg, & Alloy, 2018; Piccorillo, Burke, Moore-Berg, Heimberg, & Alloy, 2020) and the predictive validity of implicit measures (Moore-Berg, Briggs, & Karpinski, 2019).

© Copyright 2021, Samantha Moore-Berg