Research Suggests Power is Key Component to Resolve Intergroup Conflict

Summary of:

Kteily, N. S., & McClanahan, K. J. (2019). Incorporating insights about intergroup power and dominance to help increase harmony and equality between groups in conflict. Current Opinion in Psychology, 33, 80-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.06.030

Background & Theory

This article evaluates the role that power plays in intergroup conflict and its resolution. It discusses how any reasonable approach to resolve intergroup conflict should take into account the hierarchical structure at hand, as even the basic psychological needs and desires are largely influenced by this.

Research Questions

The authors address the following questions in their study:

  1. In what ways does power influence intergroup conflict?
  2. What are ways to effectively resolve intergroup conflict that work toward true equality and peace?

Methods

The authors reached their results and conclusion through the evaluation of current knowledge and research pertaining to intergroup conflict. Specifically, the authors discuss why the power dynamic is crucial to understanding intergroup conflict, and explain the impact of hierarchy. They also discuss how this impacts our psychological needs, the ways advantaged versus disadvantaged groups are affected in intergroup conflict, and what reactions each group is likely to have. They conclude their research by discussing the benefits of interventions that effectively account for the power dynamic and the needs each group has.

Results

The results show that power dynamics and hierarchy play a large role in intergroup conflict, though this is often not discussed as often as other relevant factors. An example provided was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; while many factors are at play, the role power plays is quite large. To best resolve the conflict at hand, one needs to understand how dominance and power are impacting the situation. There are many ways to incorporate interventions that focus on this area, such as self-affirmation and empathy of the advantaged group, finding appropriate trade-offs that meet the needs of each group, and approaching conflict resolution with goals for peace and equality. Further studies should be pursued pertaining to these topics.

What This Means

  • Intergroup conflict is complex and there are many factors involved; power is one that cannot be overlooked, especially given the long history of hierarchy and prejudice in human nature.
  • Ways to effectively resolve intergroup conflict must incorporate the individual needs and desires of each group, which are often impacted by power dynamics.
  • Perspective sharing is one very critical way that both sides can come to resolve the conflict at hand and learn to understand one another.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Intergroup conflict is not easy to resolve, and is at the root of many major conflicts. Finding ways for groups to relate to one other and understand their differences and perspectives is a great way to begin building a bridge to peace.

For everyone: Be willing to see outside yourself, and always be willing to fight for equality. Acknowledge your identity and values, but be open to seeing others’ identities and values too. Learning to understand others is a very helpful way to reduce conflict.