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Seeking revenge or seeking reconciliation? How concern for social‐image and felt shame helps explain responses in reciprocal intergroup conflict

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European Journal of Social Psychology

Published online on


In conflicts with reciprocal violence, individuals belong to a group that has been both perpetrator and victim. In a field experiment in Liberia, West Africa, we led participants (N = 146) to focus on their group as either perpetrator or victim in order to investigate its effect on orientation toward inter‐group reconciliation or revenge. Compared to a perpetrator focus, a victim focus led to slightly more revenge orientation and moderately less reconciliation orientation. The effect of the focus manipulation on revenge orientation was fully mediated, and reconciliation orientation partly mediated, by viewing the in‐group's social‐image as at risk. Independent of perpetrator or victim focus, shame (but not guilt) was a distinct explanation of moderately more reconciliation orientation. This is consistent with a growing body of work demonstrating the pro‐social potential of shame. Taken together, results suggest how groups in reciprocal conflict might be encouraged toward reconciliation and away from revenge by feeling shame for their wrongdoing and viewing their social‐image as less at risk.