Research Shows Importance of Messages of Hope and Despair in Conflict, and How Political Ideologies Might Influence Their Effects | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

May 26, 2021by Natalie Davis0

Summary of:

Cohen-Chen, S., Lang, O., Ran, S., & Halperin, E. (2020). The prevalence of despair in intractable conflicts: Direct messages of hope and despair affect leftists, but not rightists. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 50, 588-598. DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12697

Background & Theory

This article explores how messages of hope and/or despair can influence groups that are involved in an intractable conflict. In this case, the authors perform two studies to see how Israelis and Palestinians are impacted by these messages, and whether their political ideology has any influence on the situation.

Research Questions

Cohen-Chin et al., in “The prevalence of despair in intractable conflicts: Direct messages of hope and despair affect leftists, but not rightists” (2020), seek to address the following questions:

    1. How do messages of hope and despair impact people involved in an intractable conflict?
      1. Is one more impactful than the other?
    2. What ways might political ideology influence the effects of these messages?


The authors conducted two studies for the purpose of this article.

Study 1: Study 1 included 105 participants, all of Israeli-Jew ethnicity. They were 44% male/56% female, average age of 45.49, and of varying political ideologies (roughly ~⅓ Rightists, ~⅓ Centrists, and ~⅓ Leftists). This first study mostly sought to determine how one’s political ideologies might affect one’s perception of a hope-based message. The participants were provided a text that presented research and its findings about ethical conflict, and randomly assigned them into three categories: hope condition, despair condition, and control condition. They then completed feedback measures that gauged their reading comprehension and their feelings about whether they were hopeful about resolving the conflict at hand. The data was then collected and evaluated statistically.

Study 2: Study 2 was mainly to expand the participants and further replicate the Study 1 results. Study 2 included 141 participants, all of whom were of Israeli-Jew ethnicity. They were 48% male/52% female, average age of 45.09, and varying political ideologies (45% Rightists, 29% Centrists, 26% Leftists). The same measures and procedures as Study 1 were used, and the data was again collected and evaluated statistically.


Study 1: The results for Study 1 do show that political leanings may impact how messages are received and how they impact the individual. For instance, those who were considered Rightists were not greatly affected by the study manipulations, but Leftists were impacted by all of the manipulations, especially within the despair condition.

Study 2: Study 2 showed very similar results to Study 1. Again, Leftists were impacted significantly by every manipulation, especially those in the despair condition. Rightists again showed no significant effects from the manipulations.

Overall, the results show that despair is more prevalent than hope and is easier to instill in people, especially when it comes to those who fall into Leftist ideology. Hope is very helpful when it comes to the desire and urgency surrounding resolving a conflict (if not especially for such as the Israeli-Palestiniant conflict), which means that finding ways to encourage both sides of the political spectrum (and in this case, finding ways to especially influence Rightists) to hope for peace will be meaningful in the long run and the possibility of resolving conflict, as well as finding ways to minimize messages of despair.

What This Means

  • As with many facets of our belief systems and identities, our political leanings can greatly influence our perception of a conflict, and also our ability to desire to resolve said conflict.
  • Hope is harder to instill than despair, and even more so for certain groups of people. Understanding how this applies to conflicts in general is important future research, and also how we might be able to instill hope opposed to despair.
  • One’s desire and sense of urgency surrounding conflict and one’s hope about the conflict resolving mean a lot when it comes to taking action to do so. Conflict, especially difficult or intractable conflict, can be very difficult to resolve peacefully when both sides don’t share these feelings.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: So many trainings and workshops revolve around any number of issues regarding conflict; finding ways to also instill hope in the parties involved in conflict might be another method to resolving the issue(s) at hand.

For everyone: It is very easy to be hopeless and have negative feelings about an issue or a conflict, especially conflict that affects us in many ways. However, finding reasons to remain hopeful might be one step closer to resolving it.

Natalie Davis

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