A Moral-Existential Account of the Psychological Factors Fostering Intergroup Conflict

Social and Personality Psychology Compass, Vol. 5, No. 11, pp. 878–890, 2011

13 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2011 Last revised: 9 Nov 2011

See all articles by Pelin Kesebir

Pelin Kesebir

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

Tom Pyszczynski

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Date Written: November 8, 2011

Abstract

We combine ideas from terror management and moral foundations theories to analyze the role of existential and moral concerns in the creation and escalation of intergroup conflict. We argue that moral values, as important components of cultural worldviews, serve to buffer existential anxiety. Perceived threats to one’s moral values thus are capable of inducing existential anxiety and unleashing strong moral emotions, creating the psychological impetus for intergroup conflict and violence. We review evidence that threats to the five core moral intuitions posited by moral foundations theory (harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity) are associated with existential anxiety and that this contributes to intergroup strife and violence. Moral and existential concerns combine to create a vicious feedback loop that leads to self-perpetuating spirals of violence, which helps explain the intractability of many real-life conflicts.

Keywords: Terror management theory, morality, moral foundations theory, intergroup relations, intergroup conflict, intergroup violence, peace psychology

Suggested Citation

Kesebir, Pelin and Pyszczynski, Tom, A Moral-Existential Account of the Psychological Factors Fostering Intergroup Conflict (November 8, 2011). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, Vol. 5, No. 11, pp. 878–890, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1781176

Pelin Kesebir (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Center for Investigating Healthy Minds ( email )

1500 Highland Avenue, Suite S119
Waisman Center
Madison, WI 53705-2280
United States

Tom Pyszczynski

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs ( email )

1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway
Colorado Springs, CO 80918-7150
United States

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