Cycle of Violence: Perpetrating Violence and Identification with Violent Groups

In my dissertation, I use two methodological approaches to examine whether perpetrating violence on behalf of one’s group increases group identification. First, I test this proposition in a set of enormously consequential real world cases, using archival data from interviews with former combatants in Liberia and Northern Uganda. In the context of Liberia, where many combatants joined their violent group willingly, the data show a positive association between perpetrating violence and group identification. In the context of Uganda, where all respondents were abducted into the LRA and some abductees were quasi-randomly assigned to perpetrate violence against loved ones while others were not, perpetrating violence increases identification with the LRA. For the second part of my dissertation, I am conducting a series of online and lab experiments with civilian samples in the United States (in collaboration with Mina Cikara) to test the generalizability of the findings and explore possible mechanisms. If perpetrating violence – in and of itself – increases group identification, this has important implications for future violent behavior and may help to explain patterns of intergroup conflict over time. This suggests a cycle of violence in which violent behavior increases identification with violent groups and group identification increases future violent behavior.

Inciting Action Against Corruption in Nigeria: A Large-Scale Field Experiment in the Niger Delta (with Graeme Blair and Betsy Levy Paluck)

Why do individuals engage in behaviors that yield collective benefits but uncertain or negligible benefits for the individual? How can societies encourage individuals to take these actions? We address these questions through two linked, consecutive field experiments in the oil rich southeastern region of Nigeria, a country awash in corruption at all levels of society. We measure the influence of a popular film and a text message media campaign, both aimed at encouraging Nigerians to report corruption via text message. To shift ideas about the typicality and desirability of corruption reporting in Nigeria, we randomly assigned half of 106 communities to receive a popular Nigerian film that included (vs. deleted) a storyline demonstrating characters in the film engaging in the corruption reporting campaign. We distributed a total of 31,800 films across the 106 communities. Additionally, to lower the logistical and material costs of corruption reporting, we randomly varied the timing of a text message "blast" inviting recipients in all 106 communities to hit reply to report corruption (messages went out to 683,000 phones). Finally, to assess the impact of the intervention on social norms and personal attitudes regarding corruption reporting, we surveyed 1500 people in our study communities who indicated watching the popular Nigerian film.