Paluck, E. (2007). Reducing intergroup prejudice and conflict with the mass media: A field experiment in Rwanda. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, Vol 68(6-B), 2007. pp. 4179. Retrieved July 3, 2009, from PsycINFO database.
Can the media reduce intergroup prejudice and conflict? Despite the high stakes of this question, our understanding of the mass media’s role in shaping attitudes and behaviors, especially prejudiced attitudes and behaviors, is very limited. This study attempted to fill this gap with the first experimental evaluation of a radio program’s impact on intergroup prejudice and conflict in a real world setting. The study took place in the East African country of Rwanda where a war and genocide resulted in the deaths of more than 10% of the population over the course of 3 months in 1994. I randomly assigned Rwandan communities to listen to one of two radio programs: a reconciliation radio soap opera and a health soap opera. The reconciliation soap opera aimed to influence beliefs about intergroup prejudice, mass violence and trauma with a series of educational messages, and its fictional characters portrayed positive social norms regarding intergroup behavior and trauma healing. Study participants listened to the programs over the course of one year, during which I collected observational data on their discussions of and emotional reactions to the programs. At the end of the year I measured outcomes with standardized questionnaires, focus groups, and behavioral observations. The reconciliation radio program did little to influence listeners’ beliefs about the radio program’s educational messages. However, results support the hypothesis that radio programs can influence behaviors and perceived social norms regarding intergroup relations and trauma healing. The reconciliation program affected listeners’ perceptions of and behaviors toward some of the most critical issues for Rwanda’s post conflict society, such as intermarriage, open dissent, trust, and talking about personal trauma. A pattern of perceived norm and behavior change was observed across measures of participants’ attitudes, group discussions, and behaviors during deliberations about a communal resource. The program also increased empathy for other Rwandans. Taken together, the results suggest that radio can communicate social norms and influence behaviors that contribute to intergroup tolerance and reconciliation. Field experiments like this one can be deployed to measure the causal impact of the mass media, and to animate theoretical work on the processes of media influence and prejudice and conflict reduction. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights reserved)