1. New pope. When the 266th pope of the Catholic Church was elected this year, many praised him for his commitment to interfaith dialogue. His support of cross-religious interactions underscores his belief that communication between members of different groups can help to reduce prejudice and conflict. Seeking to heal rifts among people due to religious differences or prior conflicts, the pope himself has sought out personal relationships with many religious leaders across the globe. He hopes that by encouraging his followers to establish similar interfaith relationships, current tensions can be quelled and prejudice alleviated.
Research on the intergroup contact hypothesis tells us that the pope’s strategy is likely a good one. The basic prediction of the hypothesis is that contact between people of different groups will usually reduce prejudice. Forming relationships with members of another group can help people learn more about a group, experience less anxiety about interacting with the group, and feel more empathy for that group. All three of these outcomes can then diminish prejudice. Some research has even shown that merely having a friend who interacts with someone from another group can reduce prejudice (the extended contact hypothesis). While it’s not always the case that intergroup contact yields less prejudice, the pope does seem to be taking the right approach for prejudice reduction by continuing to support interfaith dialogue.
2. Boston marathon attacks. It’s no secret that we turn to others in times of stress or that collective traumas change us. When bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston marathon in April, Bostonians reached out to support one another. People across the city provided resources and emotional support to strangers, and throughout the nation, people proclaimed their solidarity with Boston. To cope with the vulnerability felt after the attack, people sought to process their thoughts surrounding the event with others: face-to-face with another person, within support groups, and through social media.
After traumas, research has revealed that people shift in the types of social interactions they prefer. Work conducted after 9/11 showed that people gradually engaged in more one-on-one, in-person interactions across the ten days after the attacks and participated in fewer group interactions and phone conversations. The research also suggested that increases in these in-person interactions facilitated greater psychological adjustment post-9/11. Not only can stressful events change the types of interactions we seek, but it can also change the way we perceive our social environments – for the better. One study showed that 58% of study participants believed there were social benefits of 9/11, such as more prosocial behavior and political involvement in their communities. Hopefully there were some such benefits of the horrific and tragic bombings in Boston.
Hopefully, adding a little psychological research to some of the top news stories of 2013 helped you see them from a slightly different perspective. Here’s to 2014 and the top news stories it brings!
Let us know what you think about the psychology within these news stories and what else you think psychology can add to them!
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