Research Overview

Intergroup Conflict & Peacebuilding Interventions

Countries across the globe are paralyzed by intergroup conflict. Whether driven by religious disagreement, racial tensions, or political polarization, understanding the mechanisms that drive intergroup conflict are paramount to reducing it. Thus, in my research program, I focus on isolating the mechanisms that contribute to intergroup conflict and understanding the psychological barriers that make people resistant to attitude and behavior change. I then develop theory-driven interventions that have real world impact and identify the underlying mechanisms of established interventions currently used to fight intergroup conflict. I focus on three critical areas in my research:

  1. Meta-perceptions are inaccurate, which makes them amenable to intervention
  2. Correcting misperceptions about others can improve intergroup relations
  3. Misrepresentations in the media exacerbate intergroup conflict, but media interventions can mitigate this effect

Below I review select findings from ongoing research.

Research Line #1:

Meta-Perceptions are Inaccurate, Which Make Them Amenable to Intervention

One contributor to intergroup conflict is the concept ofmeta-perceptions, or how you think others view your group. Throughout history, meta-perceptions have been used as a political tool to justify conflict and incite violence. For instance, President Bush used the phrase "They hate our freedoms" to justify war with Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. Likewise, on January 6th, 2020, President Trump used perceptions about what Democrats thought about him and his supporters as a call to action to trespass on the US Capitol. In my research, I investigate the role of meta-perceptions in intergroup conflict and develop ways to intervene on them.

In particular, I investigate the contribution of partisan meta-perceptions to the breakdown of democracy (for a review see Moore-Berg, Hameiri, & Bruneau, 2020; see also Pasek, Ankori-Karlinsky, Levy-Vene, & Moore-Berg, 2022). 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 (see Fig. 1). 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 (see Fig. 2). 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 Spaniards’, Greeks’ and Hungarians’ meta-perceptions about the Roma.

Because meta-perceptions are inaccurate, they can be intervened on. 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. 

Research Line #2:

Correcting Misperceptions About Others Can Improve Intergroup Relations

A second contributor to intergroup conflict is the misperception of others. Misperceptions have a powerful hold on peoples' cognitions and emotions. It can motivate people to hate, can be used to encourage fighting and persecution, and can be used to justify discriminatory behaviors. In my research, I examine the role of misperceptions in intergroup conflict, and specifically, how correcting misperceptions can improve intergroup relations.

Both liberal and conservative news outlets overrepresent negative news stories about migrant criminality, which can lead to misperceptions about the types of immigrants entering the US. 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) (see Figure 1). 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

Research Line #3:

Misrepresentations in the Media Exacerbate Intergroup Conflict, but Media Interventions Can Mitigate This Effect

A third contributor to intergroup conflict is the media. The media can perpetuate harmful stereotypes about outgroup members, drive polarization between groups, and overrepresent negative news stories about groups. However, the media can also be used to improve intergroup relations through mass media intervention campaigns and media literacy programs. In my research, I investigate both sides of the equation—how media exacerbates conflict and how media can, in turn, be used to help mitigate its own harmful effects.

The media overrepresents negative news stories about Muslims, which can result in hostility relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.  However, recognizing bias in the media is an effective tool to reducing intergroup conflict. In one project , we utilized an intervention tournament design (Hameiri & Moore-Berg, 2022) to compare the effectiveness of eleven anti-Islamophobia intervention videos (i.e., news clips, commercials, TED talks, etc) developed by practitioners and that are currently being used in the field to combat Islamophobia (Moore-Berg, Hameiri, Falk, & Bruneau, 2022). After identifying the successful intervention videos (see Fig. 1a & 1b), 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 informational 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, 2021). In this intervention, participants first read news articles 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. 

In a third project, we examined the efficacy of a humorous media intervention aimed at reducing Islamophobia (Gallardo, Moore-Berg, & Hameiri, in revision). In this intervention, participants watch Muslim American young adults make humorous comments in response to a series of Islamophobic tweets. This humorous video was effective at humanizing Muslims and reducing anti-Muslim policy support.

How can researchers work with practitioners, artists, filmmakers, and policy makers to produce research?

In many of my research projects, I partner with practitioners, artists, filmmakers, and policy makers to build on the foundations of science to promote peace, foster social change, and address the challenges that communities face. I work with nonprofit organizations, news organizations, and government organizations to increase the external validity of my research and engage in research that has direct impact on communities in conflict. I highlight many of the processes involved in translational science in recent work (see Moore-Berg, Littman, Gallardo, O'Neil, Pasek, Bernstein, & Hameiri, 2022).

Select examples of partnerships with practitioners:

© Copyright 2022, Samantha Moore-Berg