Sadness Can Lead To Peace: Study Looks At The Effect Of Sadness In Reducing Polarization

October 20, 2020by Anupriya Kukreja

Summary of:

Gur, T., Ayal, S. and Halperin, E. (2020), A Bright Side of Sadness: The Depolarizing Role of Sadness in Intergroup Conflicts. Eur J Soc Psychol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2715

Background & Theory

In our highly divided world, it is important to understand the conditions under which polarization is strengthened or weakened. Conflict situations cause people to experience a range of emotions, such as: anger, helplessness, fear, and sadness. Each of these emotions has a different effect on how communities cope with conflicts or their aftermath. This study seeks to understand how sadness reduces one’s reliance on the psychological schema of ideology and hence reduces polarization.

Research Question(s)

The authors tried to answer the following question:

  1. Does sadness lessen the use of ideological schemas as a guiding construct when making decisions, and thus leads to less polarized decision-making?


The authors did four experimental studies on Jewish Israelis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Alongside sadness, researchers also studied the effect of a non-emotional condition as well as anger to confirm if the sadness truly causes depolarization and to what degree as opposed to the other emotions. The surveys were conducted using multiple recruitment methods, from college campuses to online survey companies.

In study 1, the researchers studied sadness alongside a non-emotional condition amongst 163 Jewish-Israeli adults.

In study 2, they tried to understand sadness alongside anger amongst 213 Jewish-Israelis. They also added a behavioral measure by examining how sadness affects intergroup resource allocation in order to measure in-group favoritism.

In study 3, the authors replicated the previous studies to gauge their ecological validity. They created the same emotional conditions but this time in response to a real-world situation involving decisions during a kidnapping. This was done amongst 174 Jewish-Israelis.

In study 4, they replicated study 2 but during a turbulent time and also examined another behavioral measure of openness to information. This was administered amongst 276 Jewish-Israelis.


The authors found that sadness reduced the influence of ideology on decision making in the context of political and hypothetical conflicts such as prisoner exchanges, as well as in real-life conflicts such as kidnapping (Study 1 and 3). The other two studies (2 and 4) found a lessening of dependence on ideology in the behavioral conditions, such as monetary allocation within in-group favoritism and openness to new information.

How This Translates for the Workplace

  • Emphasizing Sadness in Conflict situations: The study acknowledges the difficulty and ethical considerations of inducing sadness in an already conflicted context to reduce polarization. At the same time, it also suggests that since negative events are often already present in the intergroup conflict context while attempting to resolve and mediate, it may be useful to refer to the sad events instead of the anger evoking aspects of a situation. This is in the case that sadness is already a part of the situation, and can be used strategically to evoke and facilitate a depolarizing attitude. The mediator would have to be very skilled to execute this, however, and the organization may have to consult a third-party to do this effectively.
  • Promoting Mindfulness: One of the main premises of mindfulness is to experience one’s emotions in their body in the present and not bypass them. People tend to bypass their difficult emotions, especially while working in high-pressure environments where intellectualization is rewarded. If bypassed too long, the sadness can turn into resentment and anger. There are subtle nudges through which employees can be made to process their emotions and resolve their differences with others early on, lest the sadness turns into anger. Sometimes sadness is too specific an emotion for a workplace to carefully cultivate over anger, so the best that can be done is improving one’s conflict resolution abilities through trainings. The paper concludes “to reduce reliance on schemata might be unconstructive when individuals have a schema and information supporting the viability of conflict resolution”. We at PPS offer training for workplaces in diversity, inclusion, as well as conflict resolution. Get in touch with us to know more.

Anupriya Kukreja

Anupriya Kukreja is a graduate in Political Science and Psychology from Ashoka University in India. She has interned at Hospitals in their psychology departments and worked at reputed policy organizations, as well as been an Albright Fellow at Wellesley College. At PPS, she examines the latest research in international conflict and writes about how such methods may apply to conflict in the workplace. She is also a part of APA Division 48’s official Newsletter "The Peace Psychologist’s" editorial team. Her long-term career goal is to apply the lens of Behaviour science to Public Policy, Conflict Resolution, and Organizational Transformation.

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