Research Shows the Value of Context in Intergroup Interactions for Compassion and Peace | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

January 20, 2021by Natalie Davis0
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Summary of:

Maoz, I., & Frosh, P. (2020). Imagine all the people: Negotiating and mediating moral concern through intergroup encounters. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 13(3), 197-210.

Background & Theory

This article examines how and when one might experience a moral reaction (like compassion) to an outgroup member’s suffering and the methods that are often used to do so, but also the involved nuances and possible contradictions that existing research holds.

Research Question

Maoz and Frosh, in “Imagine all the people: Negotiating and mediating moral concern through intergroup encounters” (2020), seek to address the following question:

    1. When and why does one have moral reactions to suffering outgroups, and what factors influence this?


The authors performed an analysis of information and research that discusses intergroup interactions and conflict, studies that show when moral concern was shown (or not), and what limitations exist. Of specific note were studies that discussed exposure to an outgroup’s suffering – either through sharing stories or through the media – and breaking down the positives and negatives of these studies and the larger implications that exist.


The results show that there is definitely truth to existing research that shows a link between exposure to an outgroup’s suffering and moral concern, but that it is not quite that simple. While this may work in some cases, it has a complete opposite effect in others. Thus, the overarching conclusion is that for an intergroup interaction to foster moral concern, the specifics are most crucial about when, why, and how one might experience this situation. They then discuss several critical areas and situations that are more likely to elicit moral concern.

What This Means

  • Context is critical when resolving any conflict, and simple exposure in and of itself does not always yield positive results.
  • Moving people to moral concern or compassion can be critical in resolving conflict, either with someone involved in that conflict, or someone from the outside who can help push for resolution or involve themselves in a positive way (i.e. activists). How this is done, however, matters just as much.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: In small or large conflicts, evaluating the situation properly and discerning the full context can make all the difference in resolving the issue.

For everyone: Keep an open mind when exposed to those different from you, especially in conflict – try to evaluate your own reactions and why you feel the way you do. We are all allowed to have our own feelings, but taking others’ into consideration is crucial for preventing and resolving conflict.

Natalie Davis

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