Research Suggests Family Cultural Influence and Intergroup Bias Plays Role in Escalating Conflict | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

February 5, 2020by Natalie Davis

Summary of:

Taylor, L. K., & McKeown, S. (2019). Does violence beget violence? The role of family ethnic socialization and intergroup bias among youth in a setting of protracted intergroup conflict. International Journal of Behavioral Development, Volume 43(5), 403-408. DOI: 10.1177/0165025419844036

Background & Theory

This article explores the relationship between teens’ exposure to violence and whether this fosters violent actions on behalf of the teens. The data used evaluates family roles and cultural influences for teens in Northern Ireland, where tensions are high and there are very clear distinctions between groups and continued violence, despite the 1993 peace accord.

Research Questions

The authors seek to answer the following questions in their study:

  1. Does exposure to violence cause the continuation of violence amongst youth?
  2. How do family ethnic socialization and intergroup bias play a role in sectarianism and violence?
    1. Does the environment surrounding these factors play a role?


The data evaluated in this article focuses on youth in Northern Ireland. The data collected came from one group of teens over two different time periods. Time 1 consisted of 466 teens, aged 14-15 years old, with 50% male/50% female/51% Catholic/49% Protestant. Time 2 consisted of 282 teens aged 15-16 years old, with 52% male/48% female/47% Catholic/53% Protestant. Surveys were distributed during both time frames, where students were asked to scale their experiences with Exposure to Sectarian Antisocial Behavior, Family Ethnic Socialization Measure, and Intergroup Bias. They rated their feelings and how often they experienced bias, cultural influence at home, and their own associated behaviors with their specific cultural influences. No major differences were apparent with the smaller number of returning students for Time 2.


The results showed that 36% of the youth never participated in sectarian antisocial behavior, and 50% hadn’t within the last 3 months, but it is reminded that the results of critical concern are in regards to those who answered that they have participated in these behaviors. It was found that students who experienced a great degree of family ethnic socialization at home during Time 1 did have a stronger intergroup bias when evaluated during Time 2. The stronger degree of intergroup bias correlated with participation in sectarianism and related acts of behavior. Exposure to sectarianism during Time 1 was not an influence of participation during Time 2, which shows a clear relationship between youth exposed to family ethnic socialization and acts of sectarianism at a later time.

What This Means

  • Youth who are exposed to sectarianism and violence may or may not perform similar acts of their own at a later time. 
  • Youth exposed to a high degree of family ethnic socialization and encouraged intergroup bias, especially in an area of conflict, are much more likely to participate in violent or sectarianism acts in the future.
  • It is clear that the role a family plays in a youth’s identity is quite critical, which can have lasting impacts on not only that family and individual, but also the larger community around them.
  • While intergroup bias can have some positive impacts on a person (such as being proud of your heritage), it can also indicate aggression and violence to those in the outgroup depending on other factors surrounding these beliefs and feelings.
  • The environment surrounding youth may play a larger role in sectarianism and violence. For instance, innocent actions being perceived as a threat, and thus warranting violent reactions. Combined with other factors mentioned above, this can lead to dangerous situations for all involved.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Cultural context is critical in certain regions and areas of conflict. Be sure to understand the specific cultural influences of an area or group of people when mediating between them, and defuse aggression where needed. It can be difficult to reduce intergroup bias for the sake of resolving conflict, but understanding that perspective may be helpful in disarming the aggressive and reactive behavior.

For everyone: Seek to understand those around you and why and how their perspectives have been shaped. This alone may be more critical at times than simply understanding perspective in general, and when willingly done by both parties, can be helpful to reduce personal conflict.

Natalie Davis

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