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MIT research: The power of being heard
Date:3/15/2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- To help promote peace in the Middle East, many organizations have established "peace camps" or similar conflict-resolution programs that bring Israelis and Palestinians together to foster greater understanding of the opposing group.

One common feature of such programs is the opportunity for members of each group to share stories about their lives with members of the other group. Now, a new study from MIT neuroscientists shows that the benefits from this exchange are much greater when members of the less empowered group share their stories with the traditionally dominant group than when the reverse occurs.

The finding, published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, supports the idea that for the disempowered group, the biggest barrier to reconciliation is the belief that their concerns are being ignored, says Rebecca Saxe, senior author of the study.

"If that sense of being neglected and disregarded and taken advantage of is the biggest obstacle to progress, from their perspective, then you can partly address that by providing an experience of being heard," says Saxe, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and associate member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.

The researchers found the same phenomenon in a similar study of Mexican immigrants and white Arizonans, which is also described in the new paper.

Sharing perspectives

Many previous studies have documented the benefits of "perspective taking" that is, making an effort to understand another person's experiences and point of view. However, this is the first study to look at the other side of that exchange, which lead author Emile Bruneau dubbed "perspective giving" the opportunity to share one's own story with someone else.

Bruneau, an MIT postdoc who volunteered as a counselor at peace camps in Northern Ireland before earning his PhD, says interviews with
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Contact: Caroline McCall
cmccall5@mit.edu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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