Can They Change? I want to meet them

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

Contact between members of groups in conflict can, under the right conditions, reduce prejudice and promote resolution. But how can you convince the conflicting sides to interact? Particularly when the conflict is violent and long lasting? A recent study on the intractable conflict in Cyprus reveals that if participants believe that the other side can change, more positive attitudes develop and compromises are more likely to happen. The study concludes that if Group A thinks that Group B is changeable, then A will feel less anxiety towards B and will be more motivated to communicate with them. The mere belief that the other side does not hold a fixed mindset but rather a more flexible or malleable one – reduces the anxiety between the two groups and enhances motivation for contact.

This has meaningful implications for addressing difficult, long-term conflicts. If examples and illustrations can be presented of times when members of the outgroup underwent significant transformations (even if unrelated to the conflict), it can signal malleability. When each side begins to believe that the other side is capable of changing, then they will be more willing to sit at the negotiation table. The authors conclude: “first, messages of group malleability should be conveyed in a unilateral setting, and only then should the possibility of bilateral contact or compromise be introduced.”

Halperin, E., Crisp, R. J., Husnu, S., Trzesniewski, K. H., Dweck, C. S., & Gross, J. J. (2012). Promoting Intergroup Contact by Changing Beliefs: Group Malleability, Intergroup Anxiety, and Contact Motivation. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028620


Taly Harel-Marian

Taly Harel-Marian is a Ph.D. candidate in the Social-Organizational Psychology program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her primary research interests include stereotype threat, cross-cultural dynamics, work/family issues, conflict resolution, and diversity in organizations. She also holds an M.Sc. in Behavioral and Management Sciences from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology,… MORE >

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