Library Header Image
LSE Research Online LSE Library Services

The psychology of threat in intergroup conflict: emotions, rationality, and opportunity in the Rwandan genocide

McDoom, Omar Shahabudin (2012) The psychology of threat in intergroup conflict: emotions, rationality, and opportunity in the Rwandan genocide. International Security, 37 (2). pp. 119-155. ISSN 0162-2889

PDF - Accepted Version
Download (456kB) | Preview

Identification Number: 10.1162/ISEC_a_00100


How do security threats mobilize social groups against each other? The strength of such threats lies in the power of group emotions, notably the primary emotion of fear. Fear works by activating psychological processes at the group level that polarize attitudes between different groups. An analysis of survey data, radio broadcasts, and interviews from Rwanda's civil war and genocide of 1990–94 reveals four psychosocial mechanisms at work in group polarization: boundary activation, outgroup derogation, outgroup homogenization, and ingroup cohesion. Additionally, scholarly debates on the role of emotions, material opportunities, and rationality in ethnic conflicts represent a false theoretical choice. Both emotions and material opportunities matter, and rationality and emotion are not incompatible. Two simple refinements to extant theoretical and empirical approaches are needed. First, scholars ought to distinguish between attitudes and violence in ethnic conflicts; emotions matter for the polarization of attitudes, but material and structural opportunities mediate their expression as violence. Second, scholars should pay greater attention to the extensive research in social psychology that shows that both emotion and reason interact in individual judgment and decisionmaking.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2012 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Divisions: Government
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 28 Nov 2012 09:20
Last Modified: 21 May 2024 02:39

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics