Title: The Effect of Group Identity on Memories of Intergroup Conflict
Name: Rezarta Bilali

Assistant Professor
Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance
McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies
University of Massachusetts Boston

Year: 2008
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: This research examined how group members construe past conflict and violence in which their ingroup was involved and shed light on the relationship between ingroup identification and those construals of intergroup conflict. I proposed that construals of intergroup conflict vary along two main dimensions, attributions of responsibility and perceived severity of harm. The first study examined the influence of Turkish identification on Turks construals of a historical period characterized by intergroup violence (Armenian-Turkish conflict). Study 2 sought to extend this investigation in a recent conflict context (Turkish-Kurdish conflict) by examining whether the influence of ingroup identification on construals of conflict varies as a function of ones group membership (Turks vs. Kurds). Study 3 extended the prior findings to examine whether individual differences in the strength of ingroup (Hutu vs. Tutsi) identification are an important predictor of construals of conflict in a context of ongoing extreme violence between groups (ethnic conflict in Burundi).

Across the three studies participants exhibited ingroup favoritism in attributions of responsibility. Particularly, they assigned less responsibility to their ingroup, but more responsibility to the outgroup and to the external factors (such as third parties or external circumstances), regardless of whether the ingroup was a perpetrator (e.g., Turks in the Armenian genocide) or a victim (e.g., Kurds in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, or Hutus in the Burundi conflict). Across studies group members attributed equal amounts of responsibility to third parties as to the respective outgroups suggesting that third parties play an important role in group members beliefs about the initiation, evolution and consequences of conflict. I also distinguished between two types of responsibility: responsibility for the instigation and responsibility for the consequences of the violent conflict. The findings indicated that groups engage in a competition over who started the conflict: Group members attributed less responsibility to the ingroup for the instigation than for the consequences of the conflict. Each group surveyed in this research also expressed a sense of ingroup victimization suggesting that psychological victimhood is present in both victim and perpetrator groups. These puzzling results raise questions regarding the differences of psychological victimhood in perpetrator and victim groups. Future research should further investigate the characteristics and determinants of psychological victimhood in perpetrator and victim groups.

Across the three studies, the strength of ingroup identification was associated with ingroup favoritism in attributions of responsibility to the ingroup, the outgroup, as well as to third parties. The current findings indicated that the strength of ingroup identification was associated with both ingroup and outgroup attributions. One exception was Study 3 in which the strength of Hutus and Tutsis ethnic identification was associated more consistently with outgroup responsibility. Research on ingroup bias suggests that different processes might determine ingroup preference vs. outgroup evaluation (Brewer, 1999). Under conditions of extreme threat and violence, the strength of ingroup identification might differentially relate to ingroup and outgroup aspects of ingroup bias. For instance, the correlation between ingroup identification and outgroup prejudice has been shown to be high in the presence of intergroup conflict (Brewer, 1999). Heightened threat might weaken the relationship between the strength of ingroup identification and ingroup aspects (e.g., ingroup preference) of ingroup bias, while strengthening its relation with outgroup aspects (e.g., outgroup derogation) of ingroup bias.