Priming effects of a reconciliation radio drama on historical perspective-taking in the aftermath of mass violence in Rwanda

Friday 8 December 2023

Bilali, Rezarta and Johanna Vollhardt. 2013. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 49, no. 1: 144-151.  

This source is an article written by peace and violence psychology specialists Rezarta Bilali and Johanna Vollhardt for the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The piece summarises the key conclusions of an experiment conducted in post-genocide Rwanda, examining the impact of a radio drama series on individual propensities for perspective-taking, or the willingness to consider a former adversary’s understanding of a historical conflict. Perspective-taking has been shown to contribute to the reduction of prejudice by evoking sentiments of guilt within an in-group for harm inflicted on an out-group; Bilali and Vollhardt offer an effective summary of perspective-taking as an indicator of intergroup forgiveness in post-conflict settings such as Chile and Northern Ireland, before introducing psychological barriers which hinder its development. Among these are a heightened sense of threat or fear when confronted with a former adversary’s experiences, which reduce an individual’s willingness to listen and resulting in continued closed-mindedness. This article then introduces a novel experiment which sought to leverage the Musekeweya radio soap opera program, meaning ‘New Dawn’, to promote perspective-taking between divided ethnic groups. Both authors summarise the program’s basic plot and explain the character of Batamuriza, who seeks to re-establish bonds between her fictional village and an adversarial community in the aftermath of violent conflict. The study’s key finding was that by ‘priming’ individuals with phrases, references, and questions by Batamuriza, participants formed mental connections between their attitudes towards an opposing ethnic group’s perspectives and the bridging character of Batamuriza, effectively reducing inter-group mistrust by encouraging individuals to serve as bridge-builders themselves through historical perspective-taking. Bilali and Vollhardt’s research, thus, offers an isolated, albeit fascinating, example of the powerful fusion of mass media narratives and psychology to overcome the cognitive and behavioural barriers to post-conflict peacebuilding.


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