Lecture 11 - Social Psych

Intergroup conflict


(Derived from Meyers; Vander Zanden; Sociology 311 notes - Lecture 2)

(NOTE: an * indicates the material is not from Meyer)

I. Intro

A. Conflict = perceived incompatibility of actions or goals. Whether the perceptions are accurate or not, people in conflict sense one sides gain is the others loss.

*II. Conflict Models.

A. Aggressor-defender model.

1. This view of conflict dominates the thinking of many leaders in public life. Whether the conflict involves warfare among nations, strife between racial groups, controversies among scientists, or whatever, one party typically views the other as the "aggressor". One side in the conflict is seen as motivated by evil and illegitimate aims; the other by noble, morally correct, and legitimate aims. When the aggressor-defender model is accepted, it follows logically that the good guys must increase their deterrent power to ensure that the bad guys are held in check.

2. The major problem with this approach is its highly moralistic focus. It commonly leads to a one-sided analysis of causation that places the blame on the aggressor's behavior.

B. Conflict-spiral model.

1. According to this view, conflict breeds conflict. Each party in turn extends and intensifies the conflict by reacting in a punitive or defensive manner to the other party's behavior. As a consequence, a continuing spiral of escalation unfolds that traps both parties. Viewed from this perspective, the initial source of friction may have been inconsequential. But, rather than focusing on a "first cause" (as in the case of the aggressor-defender model), the conflict-spiral model describes the dynamic, interactive process by which individuals or groups find themselves caught in an upward spiral of hostilities.

2. De-escalation may also occur in a spiral fashion. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and summit talks between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. have had as their aim a step-by-step retreat from nuclear confrontation.

3. EXAMPLE: The model provides a useful tool for examining the student power and antiwar clashes that occurred on college campuses across the country in 1970. Not uncommonly, a few students would stage a sit-in or demonstration. School or local authorities would respond by bringing in police units. Arrests, name-calling, scuffling, and other incidents would follow. College or state administrators might then respond by bringing in more police or national guard units, serving to inflame student anger and activating previously uninvolved students. In short, aggression bred counter-aggression in a spiral of intensified confrontation.

4. Problems: Ignores the role of strategic planning in conflict. Action does not inevitably result in reaction.

C. Structural-change model.

1. This model is also concerned with the dynamic interaction between parties in the course of conflict. But unlike the conflict-spiral model, it holds that certain enduring changes take place that perpetuate the conflict. For instance, military elites often gain considerable power during a war. They may come to have a stake in perpetuating hostilities so that they will not lose their power and privileges to civilian authorities. The same holds true for war industries and for the workers who become dependent on a war economy.

2. Not all conflicts last long enough to bring about major institutional changes. And, after conflict, societies may return to pre-conflict conditions. The conflict-spiral and structural change models are not necessarily contradictory; for example, both may have been operating during the Vietnam War.

*III. Intensity of Conflict. A variety of forces can affect the intensity of conflict - the degree to which the parties are committed to expending resources and energy in their effort to defeat or neutralize their opponents.

A. Common allegiances and memberships. When the parties share common loyalties and identities, bonds exist between them that lessen the magnitude of their discord.

EX: Within the U.S., the clash between Republicans and Democrats is mitigated by overriding national considerations, especially in the realm of foreign policy.

B. Crosscutting identifications. Contemporary nation-states commonly contain a variety of antagonist groups - classes, races, nationalities, religions, and political parties. Where individuals have crosscutting identifications - where they are antagonists in one conflict (for example, class) and allies in another (say, race or religion) the conflict tends to be less intense. But where identities are superimposed - some individuals are consistently the top dogs and others consistently the underdogs - conflict is likely to be more intense.

EX: Class and race tend to be overlapping identities within the U.S., and thus serve to intensify black-white polarization.

C. Third parties as referees. A powerful third party - often the government - may intervene in conflict in order to limit or encapsulate it. Third parties, however, are seldom entirely neutral, or disinterested. Governments generally take a dim view of unregulated internal strife, since it tends to undermine national unity and thus diminish a nation's strength in the international arena. Further, private conflicts may be taken into the public arena precisely because someone does not want the current power ratio among the private interests involved to prevail.

EX: A vulnerable corporation confronted by a well-organized, powerful labor union may have a strong interest in securing governmental intervention. For example, Eastern Airlines sought help from the courts in its recent strike, but did not get it.

EX: A weak labor union might try the same thing. After the NFL Player's Strike failed last year, the union went to the court for redress. No decision yet.

E. Salience of costs. Individuals or groups often minimize or contain conflict because they feel that the expenditure of greater resources of energy "just isn't worth it." In other words, as they appraise the situation, the costs of conflict outweigh the gains to be derived from it.

EX. U.S. could be in Vietnam today if it really wanted to be. Likewise, the Soviets could still be in Afghanistan.

IV. Ingredients of conflict.

A. Social dilemmas. Several of the problems that most threaten our human future arise as parties rationally pursue their own self interest to their collective detriment. EX: Pollution, overpopulation. How can the well-being of individual parties be reconciled with the well-being of the community?

1. Prisoner's dilemma. If one confesses and the other doesn't - the confessor goes free and the other gets 10 years. If both confess - both get 5 years. If neither confesses - both get 1 year. No matter what the other does, you are better off confessing. Yet you are better off if you cooperate. The problem with trust is the possibility of exploitation.

2. Commons dilemma. "Tragedy of the commons". Immediate personal costs of consumption outweigh the costs, costs are diffused among all. Benefits from exploiting the commons is limited to one person. The costs are shared by many. Hence, it is rational to exploit the commons - though in the long run the commons can be destroyed. "Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all." EX: Polluting the environment. Exploiting the national parks.

Solution: Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected. EX: We don't treat banks as "commons". Taxes are not voluntary.

EX: The "nuts game" is an example. Goal is to get as many metal nuts as possible. Remaining nuts are doubled every 10 seconds. 65% never reach the first 10 second replenishment.

3. In both these games, people are tempted to explain their behavior situationally and their partners behavior dispositionally. Also, both are non-zero sum games; both can win both can lose. But individual interests are pitted against group interests.

4. Resolving social dilemmas.

a. Laws and Regulations. When enforced, regulations equalize the burden for all.

b. Smallness - the smaller the commons, the more people take responsibility for it

c. Communication - tends to reduce mistrust

d. Change payoffs - make cooperation more profitable. EX: Reward car pools

e. Appeal to altruistic norms

B. Competition.

1. Hostilities often arise when groups must compete for scarce resources.

2. Sherif's experiment. Took normal, well-adjusted kids, and put them in two camps. Set up competition between them. Intense hostilities developed

C. Perceived injustice

1. Equity theory, other norms of justice are important here.

2. Exploiter can relieve guilt by revaluing inputs - may even blame the victim

3. The exploited can (a) accept and justify their inferior position (b) demand compensation (c) retaliate

D. Misperception. Conflicts often contain only a small core of truly incompatible goals. Can misperceive many other motives, goals

1. Mirror-image perceptions. The misperceptions of those in conflict are mutual. EX: Russians describe us the same way we describe them. They talk about Vietnam like we talk about Afghanistan. Such images tend to be self-confirming - people act like we act toward them.

2. Blacktop illusion. Enemy's top leaders are perceived as evil and coercive; their people, though controlled and manipulated, are seen as much more pro-us. EX: We assumed people in areas dominated by the VC were far more supportive of us than they were. Blacktop Illusion reinforces our own good intentions and provides us with a devil on which to focus hostilities.

3. Shifting perceptions. Misperceptions wax and wane with conflict. EX: WWII allies and enemies.

V. Peacemaking

A. Contact - proximity may enhance liking - the "mere exposure effect" - but does it in practice?

1. Studies of desegregated housing, desegregated military units find contact does reduce hostility. Desegregated schools have not been found to significantly affect racial attitudes.

2. In schools, races tend to associate with their own members. Tracking further separates the races - have "within-school" segregation. Key seems to be that contacts have to involve = status.

B. Cooperation. Classrooms and many other settings are often arranged on a competitive basis. How can cooperation be produced?

1. Common external threats > Conflict between groups often produces unity within group. EX: 1984. The invasion of the Falkland islands.

2. Superordinate goals > "A shared goal that necessitates cooperative effort." EX: Sherif had the water supply break down, and the truck got stuck - both groups cooperated, and eventually became good friends. NOTE: Successful cooperation decreases conflict - but unsuccessful cooperation can increase it. You blame the other group.

3. Cooperative learning.

a. Question: Without hurting academic achievement, can one promote interracial friendships by replacing competitive learning situations with cooperative ones?

b. "Jigsaw" technique has been tried. Children assigned to racially and academically diverse 6-member groups. Material divided into 6 parts, each student becomes expert in their area, and has to teach their classmates. In jigsaw classes, "children grow to like each other better, develop greater liking for school, develop more self-esteem." Also, cross-racial friendships blossom, exam scores of minorities improve.

*C. Bargaining.

1. In many situations, influence is bilateral rather than unilateral. Bargaining and negotiation frequently result.

2. Bargaining tactics. There are many ways to bargain, but one way is to adopt a problem-solving approach. Often bargaining turns into a conflict that both sides feel they must win. Or, compromises may be adopted that please neither side. Instead, you want to try to solve the basic problems.

EX: A husband and wife are trying to resolve the issue of where to spend their summer vacation. Initially, the husband wants to go to the mountains and the wife wants to go to the seashore. Rather than digging in their heals, they explore the factors that underlie their different preferences. H prefers the mountains because he likes fishing, hiking, and attractive mountaintop vies. Of these, fishing and hiking have the greatest value for him. W prefers the seashore because she likes swimming, sunning on the beach, seafood dinners, and salt air, in that order.

Initially, H and W consider 3 options - the mountains, the beach, and no vacation at all. They also consider a fourth option - one week at the mountains and one week at the seashore. This is not entirely satisfactory. By treating their conflict in terms of underlying factors, they try to create new, integrative proposals that are superior to the halfway compromise. Suddenly the wife suggests that they spend their vacation at an inland lake. This would give the husband the chance to fish and hike, and the wife an opportunity to swim, sun, and eat fresh fish. With this integrative proposal, the couple resolves the conflict.


a. separate the problem from the people. To avoid the entanglement of egos, bargainers should ideally see themselves as working side by side, attacking the problem, not one another.

b. focus on interests, not positions. Should exchange information on underlying values and interests, so they can see what conditions must be met by the final proposal.

c. invent new options for mutual gain. Integrative proposals are frequently superior to superficial compromises between the initial positions. Often, compromises please nobody.

d. In the extreme case where interests are directly opposed and integrative proposals cannot be developed, bargainers should insist on objective criteria as a basis for concession. For example, you can use market value, expert opinion, custom, or law as conditions for concessions. By placing emphasis on objective conditions rather than on what the bargainers are willing or unwilling to do, neither party need give in to the other. Both can defer to an objectively determined resolution.

D. Mediation - attempts by a neutral 3rd party to help resolve conflict by facilitating communication and offering suggestions. Can strip away misperceptions, save face. EX: Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy. Camp David accords.

E. Conciliation. Those who are 100% cooperative are often exploited. Can you have a strategy that is conciliatory rather than retaliatory, yet strong enough to discourage exploitation.

1. Charles Osgood proposes GRIT - Graduated and Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension-reduction.

a. Announce one's conciliatory intent

b. Carry out several verifiable conciliatory acts. Have diversity to avoid excessive weakness in any one area - also give opponent options for responding

c. Maintain retaliatory capacity. Do not tolerate exploitation. Also match conciliatory acts

2. EX: Berlin crisis - US pulled tanks back, USSR reciprocated. Kennedy stopped atmospheric nuclear tests, led to nuclear test-ban treaty. Of course, the motives of those supposedly involved in GRIT may be suspect.