Political conflict between American Democrats and Republicans and ethnoreligious conflict between Israelis and Palestinians seem intractable, despite the availability of reasonable compromise solutions in both cases. This research demonstrates a fundamental cognitive bias driving such conflict intractability: Adversaries attribute their ingroup’s actions to ingroup love more than outgroup hate and attribute their outgroup’s actions to outgroup hate more than ingroup love. This biased attributional pattern increases beliefs and intentions associated with conflict intractability, including unwillingness to negotiate and unwillingness to vote for compromise solutions. In addition, offering financial incentives for accuracy in evaluating one’s outgroup mitigates this biased attributional pattern and its consequences. Understanding this bias and how to alleviate it can contribute to conflict resolution on a global scale.
Five studies across cultures involving 661 American Democrats and Republicans, 995 Israelis, and 1,266 Palestinians provide previously unidentified evidence of a fundamental bias, what we term the “motive attribution asymmetry,” driving seemingly intractable human conflict. These studies show that in political and ethnoreligious intergroup conflict, adversaries tend to attribute their own group’s aggression to ingroup love more than outgroup hate and to attribute their outgroup’s aggression to outgroup hate more than ingroup love. Study 1 demonstrates that American Democrats and Republicans attribute their own party’s involvement in conflict to ingroup love more than outgroup hate but attribute the opposing party’s involvement to outgroup hate more than ingroup love. Studies 2 and 3 demonstrate this biased attributional pattern for Israelis and Palestinians evaluating their own group and the opposing group’s involvement in the current regional conflict. Study 4 demonstrates in an Israeli population that this bias increases beliefs and intentions associated with conflict intractability toward Palestinians. Finally, study 5 demonstrates, in the context of American political conflict, that offering Democrats and Republicans financial incentives for accuracy in evaluating the opposing party can mitigate this bias and its consequences. Although people find it difficult to explain their adversaries’ actions in terms of love and affiliation, we suggest that recognizing this attributional bias and how to reduce it can contribute to reducing human conflict on a global scale.