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Intergroup conflict

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Intergroup conflict is one aspect of group conflict and is the conflict aroused in part by the efects of intergroup dynamics and ingroup outgroup forces

Group conflict, or hostilities between different groups, is a pervasive feature common to all levels of social organization (e.g., sports teams, ethnic groups, nations, religions, gangs).[1]. Although group conflict is one of the most complex phenomena studied by social scientists, the history of the human race evidences a series of group-level conflicts that have gained notoriety over the years. For example, from 1820 to 1945, it has been estimated that at least 59 million persons were killed during conflicts between groups of one type or another.[2] Literature suggests that the number of fatalities nearly doubled between the years 1914 to 1964 as a result of further group conflict.[3]

Sources of intergroup conflictEdit

Social psychology, specifically the discontinuity effect of inter-group conflict, suggests that 'groups are generally even more competitive and aggressive than individuals'.[4] Two main sources of intergroup conflict have been identified: 'competition for valued material resources, according to realistic conflict theory, or for social rewards like respect and described by relative deprivation theory '[5]

Group conflict can easily enter an escalating spiral of hostility marked by polarisation of views into black and white, with comparable actions viewed in diametrically opposite ways: 'we offer concessions, but they attempt to lure us with ploys. We are steadfast and courageous, but they are unyielding, irrational, stubborn, and blinded by ideology'.[6]

It is widely believed that intergroup and intragroup hostility are (at least to some degree) inversely related: that 'there is, unhappily, an inverse relationship between external wars and internal strife'.[7] Thus 'in politics, for example, everyone can get an extraordinarily comforting feeling of mutual support from their group by focussing on an enemy'.[8] Freud described a similarly quasi-benign version, whereby 'it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other - like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance...[as] a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier'.[9] The harder version of the theory would suggest that 'pent-up sub-group aggression, if it cannot combine with the pent-up aggression of other sub-groups to attack a common, foreign enemy, will vent itself in the form of riots, persecutions and rebellions'.[10]

Belief domains that contribute to intergroup conflictEdit

Superiority: At an individual level, this belief revolves around a person's enduring notion that he or she is better than other people in important ways. At the group level, this translates into the belief that one's own group has a superior cultural heritage (e.g., history, values, language, tradition). The development of Hitler's ideology of Aryans as a 'master' race is one example of this belief[11].

Injustice: At the individual level, this belief revolves around perceived mistreatment by others, and/or the world at large. At the group level, this translates to a worldview that the ingroup has significant and legitimate grievances against an outgroup. This belief is seen as contributing greatly to the impetus for war over the past two centuries, as the majority of wars in that time period have centered on issues of justice rather than security or power (Welch, 1993).

Vulnerability: At the individual level, vulnerability refers to a person's belief that he or she is living perpetually in harm's way. At the group level, this belief is manifested in the form of fears about the future. Chirot (2001) notes that the genocides of Armenia, Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda shared a common belief that "if they did not destroy their real or imagined enemies first, they would themselves be annihilated" (p. 10).

Distrust: At the individual level, this belief focuses on the presumed intent of others to cause harm and/or exhibit hostility. The notion of trust is often seen by psychologists as the first challenge of psychsocial development[12]. At the group level, this worldview focuses specifically on the perspective that outgroups and dishonest and untrustworthy. In more extreme manifestations, this belief is similar to collective paranoia, which is defined as collectively held beliefs, either false or exaggerated that cluster around ideas of being harmed, harrassed, threatened, or otherwise disaparaged by malevolent outgroups[13]

Helplessness: At the individual level, helplessness focuses on the belief that even carefully planned and executed actions will fail to produce the desired outcome. When taken at the group level, it translates into a collective mindset of powerlessness and dependency. Helplessness, when it exists as a shared belief within a group, serves as a constraint on organized political movement, as those who participate in a social movement must see themselves as capable of righting the wrongs they perceive[14] .

See alsoEdit


  1. Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (PFL 12) p. 353
  2. Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape Trilogy (1994) p. 251
  3. R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (1984) p. 64
  4. Eliot R. Smith/Diane M.Mackie, Social Psychology (2007) p. 515
  5. Smith/Mackie, p. 515
  6. Smith/Mackie, p. 498
  7. Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape Trilogy (1994) p. 255
  8. R. Skinner/J. Cleese, Families and how to survive them (1993) p. 135
  9. Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (PFL 12) p. 305
  10. Morris, p. 254
  11. Gonen, J. Y.. The roots of Nazi psychology: Hitler's utopian barbarism., Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.
  12. Erikson, E. H.. Childhood and society, New York: Norton.
  13. Kramer, R. M. & Messick, D. M (1998). Getting by with a little help from our enemies: Collective paranoia and its role in intergroup relations. In: Intergroup cognition and intergroup behavior. C. Sedikides, J. Schopler, & C. A Insko (Eds.), 233–255, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  14. Gamson, W. A. (1995). Constructing social process. In H. Johnston & B. Klandermans (Eds.), Social movements and culture, 85–106, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
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