Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Eidelson, R. J. (2003). Dangerous Ideas: Five Beliefs That Propel Groups toward Conflict

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Eidelson, R. J. (2003). Dangerous Ideas: Five Beliefs That Propel Groups toward Conflict

Article excerpt

Vol. 58 (3), 182-192

In an attempt to provide a psychological analysis of intergroup hostilities, the author conducted a literature review examining the important roles that individual and collective beliefs play in initiating and constraining conflict. At both levels, the author asserts that deeply entrenched patterns of event interpretation appear to govern emotions and behaviors. At the individual level, core organizing beliefs serve heuristic purposes but can lead to problems when habitual patterns of perceiving and thinking contain significant distortions. Further, core beliefs are self-perpetuating, in that discrepant data is often ignored or distorted in order to assimilate it into the core belief. Collective core beliefs or worldviews are patterns of interpreting shared experience that often operate beneath full consciousness. Collective beliefs become destructive when group members replace objective reality with their worldview as the basis for judging the intentions and actions of others. From this literature review, the author selected five beliefs, operating at both the individual and group level, which can result in intergroup conflict: superiority, injustice, vulnerability, distrust, and helplessness. The author operationalized his criteria for evaluating the adaptiveness of specific group worldviews as: the promotion of peace and stability, the preservation of individual rights and freedoms, and the promotion of justice between groups.

Individual superiority centers on a conviction that one is more special and deserving than others. Such a belief frequently results in the dismissal of societal rules as personally irrelevant, conflict with others due to lack of empathy, and a tendency to judge others' opposing actions and beliefs harshly. At the group level, convictions of superiority lead members to perceive the out-group as contemptible. Also, a superiority worldview often consists of a belief in a group's chosenness and thus entitlement to scare resources. From this viewpoint, any group can present evidence to legitimize its greater status of explain its deprivation as inappropriate and temporary.

An individual's conviction of injustice revolves perceptions of mistreatment, which can result in falsely identifying events as unfair that are merely unfortunate. Such a mindset could, therefore, result in inappropriate retaliatory acts. …

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