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Collective identities and intergroup emotions predicting positive intergroup attitudes in political groups in Chile

by Roberto Gonzalez, Escuela de Psicología, P. Universidad Católica de Chile

Since Chile recovered democracy back in 1990, the country as a whole has been facing a number of important transformations in their cultural, economic, social and political life. The major focus of attention of subsequent democratic governments was to gather information about human rights violations, to introduce reparative measures to the victims and more deeply, to re-built trust in the political system and value diversity as central aspect of our political system.

Supported by the British Council in Chile and the National Funding for scientific and Technological Research Council in Chile, we started a collaborative research program with scholars and friends from the University of Sussex and London University at Royal Holloway in the United Kingdom (Rupert Brown, Hanna Zagefka, Masi Noor, Sabina Cehajic and Sharon Cohen).  One of the main goals of our reserach agenda was to contribute to the understanding of the social psychology behind attitudes towards reconcilation, willingness to forgive and motivation to repair the damage committed to out-group members, involving both political (Chile and Northern Ireland) and indigenous (Chile) groups (Brown, González, Zagefka, Manzi & Cehajic, 2008; Manzi & Gonzalez, 2007; Noor,  Brown, R., González, R., Manzi, J., & Alan Lewis, in press). We focused the attention on the role that social identities and intergroup emotions play in predicting intergroup attitudes. As part of this research program, we also joined forces with Marilynn Brewer from Ohio State University in the US to study the role of social identity on coalition dynamics in a multiparty system characterized by a history of conflict (González, Manzi, Saiz, Brewer, de Tezanos-Pinto, Torres, Aravena  & Aldunate, 2008). In the following sections I will address these two lines of research providing first a contextual description of our past and recent Chilean political context, emphasizing how theory derived from social psychology has been an important tool to illuminate our research agenda.

It was very clear that Chile needed to face the consequences of political violence derived from the political polarization process that Chile underwent in the 60’s and early 70’s. This violence became systematic after the military coup of 1973, when the dictatorship established a secret police force, which was responsible for many human rights abuses (e.g., torture, executions and disappearance) suffered mainly by people who identified with the political left-wing. In 1990, the first year of the newly elected President, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was appointed. Reparation laws (1991-1994), Political Dialogue (1999-2000) and a National Commission on Torture (2004-2005) have taken the responsibility for clarifying the magnitude of human right violations, and for recommending specific measures to help victims and relatives of those violations. All these measures were very important to led Chilean citizens and people around the world to fully understand the negative consequences associated with a long dictatorship.

In conducting our research program, we focused the attention on a number of factors that have proved to be relevant in the literature to predict intergroup relations as well as reparation and forgiveness, such as national and common in-group identities, intergroup emotions (collective guilt, collective shame, anger, etc), ‘competitive victimhood’ (the subjective sense of having suffered more than the out-group), intergroup trust, demand for truth and victimization, among other factors. As reported in the literature, reparation and forgiveness are usually presented as necessary conditions for overcoming past troubles (Staub, 2000). However, as we already confirmed, reparation and forgiveness can be distinguished and linked to rather different psychology depending on a number of factors that I now will discuss (Manzi & Gonzalez, 2007).

Among several other results, our study confirmed that political identities were still strongly connected with the past, and produced very distinctive patterns of responses in most of the factors included in the study. Although forgiveness and reparation represented positive attitudes that were instrumental in the reduction of tensions among groups, we confirmed the need to distinguish them, as proposed in the interpersonal literature (Exline & Baumeister, 2000). In particular, forgiveness and reparation were positively associated only in the case of the group associated with perpetrating past political repression, whereas in the group associated with past victimization, they were not correlated. We speculated that this pattern of results reflected the differential nature and implications of forgiveness and reparation for groups with different roles in the conflict. On the one hand, forgiveness has a clear inter-group focus; therefore, it represented the extent to which groups in conflict were willing to put behind ill feelings regarding the opposing group. On the other hand, reparation focuses people on the victims, their needs and suffering.

As we expected, the emotional factors also proved to be very relevant to understand forgiveness and reparation. In particular, the group-level emotions of anger and collective guilt had clear and consistent consequences. The presence of anger reduced the willingness to forgive in both parties and undermined reparation in the right-wing group.  In line with previous research (Brown, et al, 2008; Iyer, Leach & Crosby, 2003; Lickel, Schmader, Curtis, Scarnier & Ames, 2005), collective guilt motivated reparation in both groups and correlated positively with forgiveness. These results confirmed that even people who had no direct relationship with the conflict could take on their group’s misdeeds and feel motivated to compensate or repair the other group.

Summarizing, our research findings revealed the complexities associated with tension-reduction processes in societies traumatized with inter-group violence.  We observed that forgiveness and reparation did not convey the same meaning for groups in conflict, and that they were associated with different cognitive and emotional factors. Forgiveness seemed to be primarily an emotional inter-group construct, closely linked with collective anger and collective guilt. Reparation, on the other hand, cannot be seen solely on emotional grounds. It does relate to collective guilt and to a lesser extent to collective shame. However, it is also connected with other variables, not necessarily emotional, such as demand for truth about the wrongdoings, demand for remorse from the out-group, and contact with victims of political violence. In sum, reparation relates to a number of aspects involved in reconciliation processes, some of which go beyond the inter-group context.

As I anticipated, we conducted another study in the Chilean political context. This time we were interesting in examining the role that an inclusive social identity plays in predicting positive intergroup relationship in the context of political coalitions. Although most coalitions originate in positive interdependence or ideological similarities among the parties involved, they are not free of tension and conflict. Tension and harmony in coalitions could be explained in political terms: tensions may increase when coalition parties disagree on important political issues or when parties compete with fellow coalition parties over resources, status, or power. On the other hand, harmony may be observed when coalitions have to compete with other coalitions, when parties converge on the same or similar approaches to political issues or when cooperating with other political forces conveys clear advantages. These explanations, which are consistent with objective conflict approaches to intergroup relations, confirm that there is a strong instrumental basis for coalition dynamics. Coalitions are formed and evolve depending on the nature of the interdependence among parties in a political system, as well as on the degree of similarity among the parties.

These instrumental explanations, however, do not take into account the fact that coalitions are also social identities. As it is well known in social psychological research, once people identify with a social category, they are motivated to protect and defend those groups even when there is no objective advantage in doing so. Therefore, social identity theory may explain why political coalitions survive, even when the instrumental value associated with a coalition is low. We assumed that traditional instrumental explanations, such as the role of political similarities or differences among parties, are relevant and necessary to understand why parties form coalitions. However, we also expected that social identity might explain coalition stability over and above what can be accounted from an instrumental political perspective. If coalitions really represent a social identity for their members, then the identification with them will serve a protective function even in the face of intra-coalition tension. The existence of intra-coalition tensions opens a related issue: the identity threat that coalitions convey. Even though the decision to join other parties in a coalition brings instrumental benefits, coalitions also require parties to postpone or give up some goals and aspirations, if they interfere with coalition building. This is a normal trade off in political life that could be experienced as an identity threat at the party level. When party members perceive that joining a coalition compromises key ideological aspirations or implies the imposition of candidates, they feel threatened and, as a consequence, become motivated to restore the distinctiveness of their own political group. Following intergroup research literature (Brown & Ross, 1982), the more group distinctiveness is undermined by perceived identity threat, the greater should be the need of reaching positive differentiation for the in-group (the party in this political context).

By analyzing the dynamics that characterize the two main political collations that exist in Chile (the “Alianza por Chile”, which includes two right-wing parties currently in opposition, and the ruling “Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia”, which brings together four parties) we confirmed the majority of or predictions in a study we conducted in a large and politically diverse university student sample (González et al., 2008).

First, based on the instrumental approaches to coalition building that stresses the role of objective similarities and the nature of interparty interdependence as the basis for interparty attitudes, we confirmed that within coalitions, the degree of perceived interparty differences had a negative effect on affect (trust, admiration and liking) toward own-coalition party members. Second, above and beyond the effect of inter-party distances, the identification with the coalition positively predicted affect toward own coalition party members. That is, the coalition inclusive identity added a protecting boundary for intra-coalition dynamics, counterbalancing or neutralizing the negative impact of inter-party distances (see the value of a common ingroup identity in Gartner & Dovidio, 2000 and Gonzalez & Brown, 2003, 2006). Based on the assumption that attitudes toward fellow coalition party members are based on their categorization as members of the in-group, at a more inclusive level, we expected that our participants would trust, like, and admire their fellow coalition members partly because they trust, like, and admire their own coalition as a whole which, at the psychological level, is associated with their own political group. This was exactly the pattern of results we found in the study. It was confirmed the important role that affect toward own coalition plays in partially mediating the relationship between own-party affect and own coalition party affect. That is, there was a positive link between own-party affect and affect toward allies as an extension of their liking and trust for their coalition.

Finally, joining a coalition normally implies a trade off. It may naturally increase perceived threat to group identity (e.g., feeling that their own ideas may not be represented, imposition of a candidate, the risk of losing power, etc.) which in turn might mobilize group members to restore positive distinctiveness, as predicted by Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Tuner, 1986). However, being outside of the coalition might reduce the chances of reaching power. Therefore, political party members may face this tension continuously if they want to pursue political goals. Assuming that identification with the coalition should provide a protective boundary to their members, it might neutralize the potentially adverse effect of identity threat. Thus, the identification with the superordinate inclusive category could serve, in this context, as a positive coalition-maintenance role. Therefore, a key issue that was addressed in the study was then to clarify whether affect towards own-coalition party members can be predicted by coalition identification above and beyond the two socio-psychological forces that promote negative attitudes toward own-coalition party member, namely party-identity threat and perceived interparty distance. As we expected, we confirmed this prediction; the more participants identified with their own coalition, the more they exhibited positive affect toward their allies regardless of their level of identity threat and perceived political distance.
Taken together, these two rather complementary lines of research clearly show how social psychological theories can provide interesting and valuable concepts to contribute to the understanding of real life social issues that I am sure are relevant for many other countries in the region and around the world.


Brown, R., & Ross, G.F. (1982). ‘The battle for acceptance: an investigation into the dynamics of intergroup behaviour’. In H. Tajfel (Ed.) Social Identity and Intergroup Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, R., Gonzalez, R. Zagefka, H., Manzi, J. & Cehajic, S. (2008). Nuestra Culpa: collective guilt as a predictor of reparation for historical wrongdoing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94 (1) 75-90.

Exline, J. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Expressing forgiveness and repentance: Benefits and barriers. In M. E. McCullough, K. I. Pargament, & C. E. Thoresen, (Eds), Forgiveness: Theory, research and practice (pp 133-155). New York: Guilfo.

Gaertner, S., & Dovidio, J. F. (2000). Reducing intergroup bias: The common ingroup identity model. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

González , R., Manzi, J., Saiz, J., Brewer, M., De Tezanos, P., Torres, D., Aldunate, N., Aravena, T. (2008).  Inter-party attitudes in Chile: Coalitions as superordinate social identities. Political Psychology, 29 (1) 93-118.

González, R & Brown, R. J. (2006). Dual Identities in Intergroup Contact: group status and size moderate the generalization of positive attitude change. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42,753-767.

González, R., & Brown, R. J. (2003). Generalization of positive attitude as a function of subgroup and superordinate group identifications in intergroup contact. European Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 195-214.

Iyer, A., Leach, C. W., & Crosby, F. (2003). White guilt and racial compensation:  The benefits and limits of self-focus. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 117-129.

Lickel, B., Schmader, T., Curtis, M., Scarnier, M., & Ames, D. R. (2005). Vicarious shame and guilt. Group Processes and Inter-group Relations, 8, 145-15.

Manzi, J, & González, G. (2007). Forgiveness and reparation in Chile: The role of cognitive and emotional intergroup antecedents. Peace and Conflict, 13(1) 71-91.

Noor, M., Brown, R., Gonzalez, R., Manzi, J., & Alan Lewis, C. (in press). Title: On positive psychological outcomes: What helps groups with a history of conflict to forgive and reconcile with each other? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Sherif, M. (1967). Group conflict and co-operation. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Staub, E. (2000). Genocide and mass killing: origins, prevention a, healing and reconciliation. Political Psychology, 21, 367-382.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In S. Worchel & W. Austin  (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 7-24). Chicago: Nelson-Hall.

Key members of the research team: Jorge Manzi, Rupert Brown, Hanna Zagefka, Marilynn Brewer, José Luis Saiz, Masi Noor, Sabina Cehajic, Sharon Cohen, Samuel Pehrson, David Torres, Pablo de Tezanos-Pinto, Nerea Aldunate, Maria Teresa Aravena, María Paz Cadena, Diego Carrasco, Rodrigo Pizarro, Hector Madrid and Cristian Simonetti.

Research Funding from: the National Commission of Scientific and Technological research funding (FONDECYT 1020954) and the British Council in Chile.

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