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Empowered Victims & Moral Perpetrators: A Needs-Based Model of Reconciliation

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

At a recent workshop at Leiden University on Obstacles and Catalysts for Peaceful Behavior, Nurit Shnabel presented exciting research distinguishing the needs of victims and perpetrators in interpersonal and intergroup conflicts. According to Shnabel and colleagues’ Needs-Based Model of Reconciliation, victims of conflict experience a psychological loss of status and honor, thus undermining their identities as powerful actors. Perpetrators, on the other hand, experience a psychological loss of social acceptance, thus threatening their identities as moral actors. Accordingly, victims and perpetrators are differentially motivated to restore these respective identities, and interactions that do so will increase their willingness to reconcile.

In several experiments, Shnabel & Nadler1 provided support for this model using a series of social exchange tasks. In one study, participants were randomly assigned to either a victim or perpetrator dyad role in which they judged (perpetrator) or were judged (victim) harshly on a creative writing task. In line with predictions, being a victim primarily threatened one’s sense of power, resulting in a greater need to restore power, and being a perpetrator primarily threatened one’s public moral image, resulting in a greater need for social acceptance. In a follow-up study, researchers demonstrated that satisfying these different needs translated into a willingness to reconcile. Using the same creativity task paradigm, participants later received a message allegedly sent from their partner, which emphasized either empowerment or acceptance. As predicted, a message of empowerment was associated with an increased willingness to reconcile only among victims, whereas a message of acceptance was associated with an increased willingness to reconcile only among perpetrators. They subsequently tested their model in the context of real-life intergroup conflicts in two experiments (the Kefar Kasem killings in Study 1, and the Holocaust in Study 2) and found further support for these patterns among victimized groups (Arabs in Study 1; Jews in Study 2) and perpetrating groups (Jews in Study 1; Germans in Study 2).2

Overall, this work highlights the emotional considerations of reconciliation (as opposed to the more traditional emphasis on instrumental concerns) by delineating the different psychological needs of victims and perpetrators in conflict. Together these studies highlight that effective intervention strategies to promote interpersonal and intergroup reconciliation must take into account both dimensions.

1Shnabel, N. & Nadler, A. (2008). A needs-based model of reconciliation: Satisfying the differential emotional needs of victim and perpetrator as a key to promoting reconciliation. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 94: 116-132.

2Shnabel, N., Nadler, A., Ullrich, J., Dovidio, J.F., & Carmi, D. (2009). Promoting reconciliation through the satisfaction of the emotional needs of victimized and perpetrating group members: The needs-based model of reconciliation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35: 1021-1030.


Christine Webb

Christine Webb is a doctoral student in Psychology at Columbia University. Broadly, her research interests include reconciliation, individual differences, evolution, and motivation. She received her B.A. in Psychology from Emory University, where she studied the social behavior of brown capuchin monkeys for two years. The following year, she worked as… MORE >

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