Identity and Conflict Lab

The Identity & Conflict Lab (ICL) is a research group that studies inter-group conflict.  Our research is motivated by major problems of our time, such as civil war, ethnic violence, racial prejudice and religious intolerance.  We consider how social identities shape individual behavior, how conflict affects identities, and what interventions are effective in reducing conflict.

ICL identifies new research questions, produces cutting edge analysis and collects new data on a broad range of topics. The Lab promotes an inter-disciplinary, multi-method approach to the study of conflict and connects faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from different departments and schools across Yale and other universities.

Featured Projects

Native Bias: Overcoming Discrimination against Immigrants
Participating Members: Donghyun Danny Choi (Brown), Mathias Poertner (LSE), and Nicholas Sambanis (Yale)
In the aftermath of the refugee crisis caused by conflicts in the Middle East and an increase in migration to Europe, European nations have witnessed a surge in discrimination targeted at immigrant minorities. To quell these conflicts, some governments have resorted to the adoption of coercive assimilation policies aimed at erasing differences between natives and immigrants. Are these policies the best method for reducing hostilities? Native Bias challenges the premise of such regulations by making the case for a civic integration model, based on shared social ideas defining the concept and practice of citizenship. Drawing from original surveys, survey experiments, and novel field experiments, Donghyun Danny Choi, Mathias Poertner, and Nicholas Sambanis show that although prejudice against immigrants is often driven by differences in traits such as appearance and religious practice, the suppression of such differences does not constitute the only path to integration. Instead, the authors demonstrate that similarities in ideas and value systems can serve as the foundation for a common identity, based on a shared concept of citizenship, overcoming the perceived social distance between natives and immigrants. 
Once We Too Were Strangers: Can a Heritage of Displacement be Leveraged to Build Support for Present-Day Refugees? 
Participating Members: Sule Yaylaci (Penn), Matthew Simonson (HUJI), and Nicholas Sambanis (Yale)
Prior studies suggest that subtle messaging interventions can reduce prejudice by stimulating perspective-taking. For instance, there is evidence that reminding citizens of their family’s experiences with displacement can induce empathy toward refugees. We test the generalizability of this treatment in five new studies in Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece, and find no evidence that descendants of displaced Turks, Greeks, or Greek Cypriots become more sympathetic toward refugees when a comparison to their own family experiences is drawn. In some cases, they become more hostile. Our study raises doubts about the scalability of this strategy to reduce anti-refugee bias. Drawing ingroup-outgroup parallels generates context-specific effects and does not move policy attitudes. We conclude by discussing the practical limitations of light-touch interventions and calling for more research on how prejudice-reduction interventions can be scaled
Violence Exposure Increases Ethnic Identification: Evidence from Kashmir
Participating Members: Gautam Nair (Yale) and Nicholas Sambanis (Yale)
This project studies the conditions that lead peripheral minorities to identify with the state, their ethnic group, or neighboring countries. We contribute to research on separatism and irredentism by examining how violence, psychological distance, and national status determine identification. The analysis uses data from a novel experiment that randomized videos of actual violence in a large, representative survey of the Kashmir Valley region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, an enduring site of separatist and irredentist conflict. We find that a strong regional identity is a counter-weight to irredentism, but violent repression by the state can push members of the minority to identify with an irredentist neighbor. Violence increases perceived distance from the nation and reduces national identification. There is suggestive evidence that these effects are concentrated among individuals with attributes that otherwise predict higher levels of identification with the state. An increase in national status brought about by economic growth and information about integrative institutions are insufficient to induce national identification in a context where psychological distance from the nation is large.
Political Exclusion, Lost Autonomy, and Non-Violent Separatism
Authors: Micha Germann (University of Bath) and Nicholas Sambanis (Yale)
Most civil wars are preceded by nonviolent forms of conflict. While it is often assumed that violent and nonviolent conflicts are qualitatively different and have different causes, that assumption is rarely tested empirically. This article uses a two-step approach to explore whether political exclusion and lost autonomy—two common causes of civil war according to extant literature—are associated with the emergence of nonviolent separatist claims, with the escalation of nonviolent separatist claims to war, or both. Our analysis suggests that different types of grievances matter more at the nonviolent and violent stages of protest movements.