The Cultural Contagion of Conflict

Gelfand, M., G. Shteynberg, T. Lee, J. Lun, S. Lyons, C. Bell, J.Y. Chiao, C.B. Bruss, M. Al Dabbagh, Z. Aycan, A.H. Abdel-Latif, M. Dagher, H. Khashan, and N. Soomro
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 367, no. 1589, pp. 692-703. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0304

Anecdotal evidence abounds that conflicts between two individuals can spread across networks to involve a multitude of others. We advance a cultural transmission model of intergroup conflict where conflict contagion is seen as a consequence of universal human traits (ingroup preference, outgroup hostility; i.e. parochial altruism) which give their strongest expression in particular cultural contexts. Qualitative interviews conducted in the Middle East, USA and Canada suggest that parochial altruism processes vary across cultural groups and are most likely to occur in collectivistic cultural contexts that have high ingroup loyalty. Implications for future neuroscience and computational research needed to understand the emergence of intergroup conflict are discussed.