Resolving group conflict from an intergroup or an interpersonal perspective? Evidence from Nigeria and the United States
A large social psychological literature conceptualizes group conflict as a fundamentally intergroup process. However, not all conflicts occur between groups with distinct psychological and geographic boundaries. In contexts where these boundaries are less defined, I argue that we should draw on theories of intragroup and interpersonal dynamics. In many conflicts, people on both sides share a meaningful group identity or home. How should we theorize and intervene in these conflicts, particularly around reintegration and reconciliation? Intergroup theories predict that victims respond to offenders with anger at the offender’s past actions, while theory addressing conflict within groups or interpersonal relationships predicts concern about whether the offender will harm them in the future. Using data from the United States and from an active conflict zone in Nigeria, I show that concern about one’s future safety is a strong predictor of willingness to reconcile with an offender, over and above anger about the past. Also consistent with evidence from interpersonal (but not intergroup) research, I demonstrate that apologies from an offender increase willingness to reconcile, in part through the mechanism of reducing concerns about one’s future safety. I discuss the need to consider intergroup vs. interpersonal paradigms of conflict for reintegration and reconciliation.