Propaganda, Empathy, and Support for Intergroup Violence: The Moral Psychology of International Speech Crimes
36 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2015 Last revised: 9 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 5, 2019
Prosecutions of speech crimes at international criminal tribunals over the past twenty years has highlighted the role of propaganda and hate speech in fomenting war or genocide, yet courts and social science lack sufficient empirical data on the effects of propaganda on inter-group violence. Here we present data that identifies the types of propaganda most likely to (i) increase justifications for inter-group violence, (ii) reduce empathy for an outgroup, while (iii) increasing empathy for the ingroup and (iv) vigilance towards the intentionality of ingroup and outgroup members. We coded 242 speeches by a convicted Serbian war propagandist into one of nine categories of speech: revenge, nationalism, stereotyping, dehumanization, justice, victimization, past atrocities, political institutions, and direct threats. After reading a representative speech or control, participants answered questions about empathy, intentionality, and whether violence is morally justifiable. Most types of propaganda lowered empathy for the outgroup, whereas only speech that expressed nationalist sentiment, advocated for revenge, or identified a direct threat to the ingroup increased ingroup empathy. Only references to past atrocities predicted justifications for violence. Moreover, participants who were politically conservative, felt the world is unjust, engaged more in violent media, and were male were more likely to justify violence. These findings have implications for prosecuting speech crimes and the elusive goal of preventing atrocities against vulnerable populations.
Keywords: Intergroup relations, dehumanizing perception, mass atrocities, hate speech, propaganda, violence, intergroup conflict
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