November 29, 2021

Ethnic Cooperation


  • Reducing Conflict
    • reducing prejudice?
    • reducing violence?
    • possible strategies
  • Media Interventions

    • changing inter-ethnic attitudes
    • changing social norms
    • evidence from Rwanda


Causes of Ethnic Violence:

  • Strategic incentives for elites, ordinary people
  • Psychological motives for individual violence
    • perceived moral threat/loss of status
  • Media messages (cultural/structural)
    • affect costs/benefits of violence
    • persuade people of justness/necessity of violence

How can we reduce ethnic conflict?

Possible Solutions:

Consider interventions that change individuals

  • Media to reduce prejudice
  • Contact to reduce prejudice
  • Durable institutions/culture that resists prejudice

Media and Prejudice Reduction

Media and Prejudice

Like media as cause of violence, media could…

persuade: influence people’s beliefs about ethnic groups (including their own) and the relationship between them.

coordinate: influence people’s perception of social norms dictating what is appropriate to say/do to other ethnic gorups (alter perceived social costs and consequences of behavior)

Media and Prejudice

In groups:

What kinds of media interventions do you think would be most effective at reducing ethnic prejudice? Violence?

Why are these media interventions potentially effective?

Media and Prejudice

Entertaining narratives likely to be effective at…


  • people less likely to opt in or out b/c of prior attitudes
  • emotionally compelling \(\to\) greater attention / understanding
  • vicarious connection with out-group characters \(\Downarrow\) prejudice

changing social norms

  • characters show how pervasive are social norms
  • provide “scripts” for real-life interactions/conversations

Does this really work?


Paluck (2009)

Can a soap opera improve inter-ethnic trust and cooperation in the wake of major ethnic violence?

  • Rwanda ~15 years after the genocide
  • Violence, in part, driven by radio
  • Can “feel good” radio story overcome legacy of trauma, fear, distrust?

Paluck (2009)

  • Rwandan-produced soap-opera, New Dawn follows fictional events similar to 1994 genocide
  • In this story, citizens work across ethnic lines to defy political leaders encouraging violence

Soap Opera (New Dawn) messages

beliefs: violence a result of psychological need for security, belonging, group status, as well as lack of independent thought and dissent, insufficient inter-group interactions

norms: positive portrayal of inter-ethnic cooperation, expression of dissent (against in-group)

Paluck (2009)

Paluck randomly assigned different communities to gather and listen to New Dawn or another soap opera about health and HIV.


  • 14 communities; 7 pairs with strong similarities, randomly assigned within pairs
  • “Treatment” gets reconciliation soap-opera; “Control” gets health-themed soap opera
  • Listened to show over course of a month in groups

Paluck (2009)

Using surveys, field observation, measures…

  • changes in beliefs
  • changes in norm perception
  • changes in empathy for others
  • changes in behaviors

Paluck (2009)

No effects on beliefs:

  • causes of violence (no change)
  • bystanders responsible for violence (no change)
  • intermarriage brings peace (no change)
  • views on trauma (no change)
  • views on reconciliation (no change)

Paluck (2009)

Reconciliation Soap Opera altered norms:

  • in favor of inter-ethnic marriage
  • trusting ethnic out-group not naive
  • more willing to publicly discuss lack of trust
  • more support for expressing dissent

Paluck (2009)


  • During shows, verbal expressions of empathy for characters
  • surveys showed more empathy for various groups in Rwandan society

Paluck (2009)


Did changing norms translate to action?

At end of study, groups were given the stereo. Asked to decide how to share the stereo and supply the batteries.

  • In health soap opera groups: first person would suggest to give stereo to local village authority to control
  • In reconciliation groups: people dissented against government control, preferred to work collaboratively to organize stereo use among themselves.

Limits of Media

Paluck (2010) ran a similar experiment in Democratic Republic of the Congo:

  • Treatment group gets soap opera + talk-show; control group gets soap opera
  • Talk show asked people to
    • discuss inter-group cooperation/friendship
    • imagine themselves in the position of the outgroup

Does discussion after a show increase its efficacy (reducing prejudice)?

Limits of Media

“Treatment”/Discussion group showed:

  • more contentious discussions
  • more negative attitudes toward outgroup
  • less willingness to help ethnic outgroup

Limits of Media

Media received in context:

  • with whom are people discussing the soap opera?
  • do discussions complement or undo the narrative of the story?


Media interventions to reduce prejudice more effective if they…

  1. Engage attention (more persuasion)
  2. Subtle / not too obvious messages (more persuasion)
  3. Show audience what others believe (social norms)
  4. Create behavioral channels (social norms \(\to\) behaviors)


Narratives work well

  • emotional attachment to characters in story
  • may help reduce prejudice by humanizing outgroup

What about contact with real people in the outgroup?