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It Isn’t My Fault: Using Emotion-based Interventions to Engage Groups Involved in Conflict

Performer on stage

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has endured for more than 70 years. Despite repeated attempts at peacemaking, only limited concessions have been made. Many Israelis and Palestinians resist interventions for reconciliation.

Eran Halperin, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, investigates how to foster peace by addressing what he calls “conflict-related naive realism.” This phrase refers to the phenomenon of both sides of a conflict considering it to be the other’s fault; each group believes that it is the other that must change. Groups involved in conflict, therefore, resist the very idea of participating in an intervention.

Halperin is trying to solve this challenge: how do researchers design interventions that change the behavior of individuals who are motivated to do the opposite of the researchers’ intended outcome?

Recent work by Halperin and his colleagues show that performance art is one way to address conflict by increasing empathy toward others.

In one such study, almost 1,000 Israelis and Palestinians attended a performance art installation. When they arrived at the event, the researchers randomly assigned the participants to different kinds of workshops about empathy. In one group, an actor discussed how empathy is limited—giving empathy to one person requires that we take empathy away from someone else. In another group, an actor discussed how empathy is unlimited—we can extend any amount of empathy to any amount of people.

Each participant then had a 15-minute one-on-one conversation with an actor in a small, soundproof booth with a large window that an audience could see into. The researchers found that participants who learned that empathy is an unlimited resource expressed the same amount of empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians. However, participants who learned that empathy is limited resource expressed more empathy for members of their own group than members of the other group.

Halperin and his colleagues have addressed other factors related to conflict in other situations. For example, they found that emphasizing how good leadership involves positive group change in a prestigious Isreali leadership workshop led to improved attitudes, hope, and willing to make concessions in conflict.

An additional study found that using virtual reality technology enabled participants to take the perspective of members of the other group.

This research suggests that psychological interventions must engage the people targeted by the intervention. Non-traditional interventions—including art, professional development workshops, and videogames—are a promising method to do so.


Written by: Barbara Toizer, PhD student at the University of Kansas

Emotion focused interventions to promote support for peace in intractable conflicts, presented at the Intervention Science preconference, held Thursday, February 27th, 2020.

Speaker: Eran Halperin, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and aChord Center

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