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<xTITLE>Research Shows How Changing the Narrative Can Open the Door to Conflict Resolution</xTITLE>

Research Shows How Changing the Narrative Can Open the Door to Conflict Resolution

by Natalie Davis
November 2020

Pollack Peacebuilding by Jeremy Pollack

Natalie Davis

Summary of:

McLamore, Q., Adelman, L., & Leidner, B. (2019). Challenges to traditional narratives of intractable conflict decrease ingroup glorificationPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(12), 1702-1716. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219841638

Background & Theory

This article explores how the glorification of our ingroup (those whom we share identity with) contributes to conflict. It also shows how taking on varying perspectives, in this case through counternarratives, can lessen ingroup glorification and thus help reduce the conflict at hand. 

Research Questions

McLamore, Adelman, and Leidner seek to address the following questions:

  1. Can sharing the perspective/narrative of the outgroup decrease ingroup glorification? 
  2. Does decreased ingroup glorification lead to decreased conflict; do glorification and attachment both play a role in this?

Methods

The authors conducted three studies, two of which were very similar, and a third study which varied but provided further analysis of the first two. 

Study 1: 258 Israeli Jews (~50% female and ~50% male, aged between 18 to 76 years) participated in Study 1, which was an online study. The participants were assigned at random one of three narratives related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; one that favored the ingroup, one that showed the suffering for both the ingroup and outgroup, and one that simply didn’t acknowledge the outgroup at all. Participants were then asked to identify the author’s nationality, their own nationality, and rate their thoughts on a number of questions related to ingroup attachment. The data were then evaluated through confirmatory factor analyses, one-way ANOVA, and post hoc power analysis.

Study 2: Study 2 essentially replicated Study 1, but took into account different factors and influences. Thus, this study focused on Americans and the “war on terror.” There were 356 participants, all of whom were English-speaking Americans (~60% female and ~40% male, aged between 18 to 73 years). This was also an online study, conducted through Amazon Mechanical Turk. This was very similar to Study 1, where all participants were provided one of three narratives to read related to the war with Pakistan: one that favored the ingroup, one that showed the suffering for both the ingroup and outgroup, and one that simply didn’t acknowledge the outgroup at all. What varied from Study 1 is that following this, participants were asked to answer 2 open-ended questions and to quickly provide a summary of the article they read. However, like Study 1, they then answered a series of questions related to ingroup attachment. The data were evaluated in a similar manner to Study 1.

Study 3: Study 3 was done to understand in greater detail the significance of studies 1 and 2. There were a total of 475 participants (all English-speaking Americans, ~60% female and ~40% male, aged 18 to 80 years; see report for additional details). This was also an online study done through Amazon Mechanical Turk’s Turk Prime, and only new participants were allowed. Participants were asked several questions related to attachment and glorification, then read either a narrative that favored the ingroup or a narrative that acknowledged both ingroup and outgroup suffering. Additional questions were asked related to attachment and glorification, followed by questions related to restorative justice vs. retributive justice, militaristic conflict resolution vs. diplomatic conflict resolution, national reconciliation, and the narratives at hand. The data were evaluated prior to reading the narratives and after reading the narratives and included ANCOVA testing, one-way ANOVA, focal analyses of moderation of condition, generalized linear model, and path model. Finally, the authors conducted a mini meta-analysis of all of the studies, data, and findings.

Results

Study 1 found that narratives can absolutely have an impact on glorification, and this can be done without harming the shared ingroup identity. Study 2 found very similar results to Study 1 and found that glorification here decreased even more significantly when participants read a narrative that showed clear suffering for both parties. Study 3 found that ingroup glorification can be decreased when a narrative that shows the suffering of both ingroup and outgroup members is provided, and that following this, there was greater support to use more peaceful means to resolve conflict. Most specifically, this occurred only for those who held a lot of both ingroup glorification and ingroup attachment prior to the narrative — those who only valued glorification saw an increase in less peaceful means to resolve conflict. 

Overall, the results indicate that while attachment didn’t initially seem to play a large role, it certainly does for those who hold their ingroup in particularly high esteem. If they are also attached, there is a decrease in non-peaceful conflict resolution means, and if they are not strongly attached, there is an opposite effect. This may be because it is easier to stay attached to the group and simply recognize where the narrative may not fit in a positive way, but if there is little attachment, it naturally makes that process more difficult since glorification is all someone clings to. The results clearly show that exposure to alternative narratives, and specifically ones that recognize suffering for both the ingroup and outgroup, can decrease ingroup glorification and encourage more peaceful reconciliation means, at least with those who have a strong attachment to their ingroup.

What This Means

  • Where possible, unbiased education and news materials may help decrease conflict around the world by ensuring that each group is recognized for the suffering they endure and by bringing awareness to the humanness both groups have. 
  • It’s easy to remain angry, hateful, bitter, etc. when there are narratives feeding this. While some of these narratives may not be false in any way, sharing multiple perspectives seems to be the key to helping move things in the right direction.
  • Being able to see outside of ourselves can be critical for resolving even the worst conflicts.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: This is excellent research with many implications for how it can be used in practice. Creating ways to bridge the gaps and changing the narratives, for two people or multiple groups of people, may be the key to at least starting to use peaceful means to resolve the conflict at hand and creating an openness to reconcile.

For everyone: Seeing outside of ourselves is vital. In conflicts, whether with our ingroup or even just with a group of friends, it’s easy to focus on our own narrative. Looking at the pain we may have also caused or the ways we’ve acted negatively can help us realize the need for us all to be recognized and understood and to be more open to kind responses and reconciliation.

Biography


Natalie Davis is an Executive Assistant at George Mason University, which is the largest public research university in Virginia. Her role as a C-level executive assistant has made her an expert in communication, public relations, administrative support, and customer service. She has successfully completed a certificate program for Mason Administrative Professionals (MAP) and has extensive knowledge of Higher Education field. Given her role in communicating across the university and with many internal and external members of the community, she has a particular interested in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. She focuses on positively building relationships within her organization and community, something she is extraordinarily passionate about; two of her top Strengthsfinder strengths reflect this – Positivity and Connectedness. One aspect of her current role is assisting in resolving conflict and concerns and is an area she quite enjoys. She looks forward to growing as a professional and continuing her education in the near future.



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