Perspective-Taking in an Imaginary Society: Asymmetric Expectations (An Us and Them Roleplay Exercise)

Description

The barriers to peace in terrorist societies can seem senseless to outside observers, and students of psychology and social sciences aim to gain knowledge to understand why. We present a role play exercise in which students take the perspective of terrorists or landowners based on the N. Ireland conflict, to promote their understanding.

Benefit of this resource and how to make the best use of it

The barriers to peace in terrorist societies can seem senseless to outside observers. A role-play experiment in which students take the perspective of terrorists or landowners based on the N. Ireland conflict is presented. We found this exercise is highly engaging and memorable for students of psychology and social sciences. We recommend its use across the range of social psychology and socio-cultural courses.

Pretext: Students are asked to be either a Plutat (Protestant) or a Camta (Catholic). They each knew that both imaginary societies used bombing and assassination strategies, and that three thousand people had been killed on both sides. Repeat observations of this exercise finds that blame is first apportioned equally, both cease military offensives together, and a map sharing the land equally is chosen. After receiving an envelope containing information randomly labelling one society as ‘landowners’ and the other as ‘terrorists’ they each invariably start to blame one another, expect the other to ceasefire first, and the ‘landowners’ refuse to share the land equally with their ‘terrorist’ counterparts. This role play exercise is relevant for students learning to understand social behaviour in contemporary society, and confirms that perspective taking cannot presuppose that positive rather than negative representations of another will be activated (Epley et al., 2006).

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