To test this hypothesis, Palestinians and Israelis, and Mexican immigrants and white Arizonans, were recruited for what they were told was a study of an online translation system. The Arizona study took place six months after the passage of a controversial anti-immigration bill, while the Middle East study was conducted six months after the 2009 Israeli military action in Gaza, when hope for a peace agreement was very low.
Each participant was assigned to write about the difficulties of life in their society, or to read and summarize such an essay written by a member of the opposing group. All interactions took place through video and text-based chat. Each participant was paired with someone who, unbeknownst to the subject, was actually a research assistant.
In a questionnaire given before and after the interaction, attitudes toward the opposing group improved most among members of the disempowered group who told their own stories, and among members of the dominant group who read others' stories.
When members of the less powerful group simply wrote their stories without having anyone from the opposing group read them, this did not boost their attitudes towards the other group reinforcing the importance of being heard.
For the dominant group, the researchers believe that hearing the opposing group's stories is beneficial because members of the group in power often fear being blamed for the conflict. Therefore, listening gives "an opportunity for them to act virtuously and morally and to show that they're actually good people," Saxe says.
However, the researchers do not recommend adopting a one-sided approach in which the disempowered group does all the talking. Instead, they believe their findings suggest it is important to ensure that both groups speak equally; studies of dialogu
|Contact: Caroline McCall|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology