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Empathizing with the Enemy:
Emotion Regulation and Support for Humanitarian Aid in Intergroup Conflicts

WorkgroupSocial Processes
Duration10/2018 - open
Project description

In newspapers, television, and on the internet, reports on conflicts between groups are frequent. These reports often – intentionally and unintentionally – elicit negative emotions vis-à-vis the other group, which then further fuel the conflict. Based on video clips from media coverage and texts, this project investigates how dealing with these negative emotions affects empathy with and willingness to help members of an opposing group.

Intractable intergroup conflicts represent a serious challenge facing society. Therefore, research has devoted much attention to finding ways for conflict resolution. Over the last years, negative emotions that are elicited by the conflict – and that are frequently reinforced and perpetuated by media reports about them – have increasingly moved into researchers’ focus. More specifically, it has been investigated how distancing from one’s negative emotions affects the behavior of persons who belong to a group that is involved in the conflict. However, less attention has been devoted to the effects of other emotion regulation strategies, especially those that are capable of eliciting empathy with members of the opposing party.

This project therefore investigates how different emotion regulation strategies affect empathy and willingness to help members of another group. To this end, we run experiments in which we, for example, use film-clips taken from reports about certain conflicts as well as longitudinal studies. In these studies and experiments, we specifically focus on the effects of integrative emotion regulation, which involves paying close attention to one’s emotions (i.e., treating them as valuable information) as well as exploring their causes. The findings derived from these studies can be used to develop interventions aimed at improving intergroup relations and are hence particularly relevant in situations where highly emotionally charged conflicts between groups exist.