Publications by topic

Three Interventions to Reduce Intergroup Conflict and Discrimination:


Using first-person narratives about healthcare workers and people who are incarcerated to motivate helping behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Social Science & Medicine, 2022

Mary E.Andrews, Bradley D.Mattan, Keana Richards, Samantha L.Moore-Berg, Emily B.Falk



Overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic requires large-scale cooperation and behavior change on an unprecedented scale. Individuals can help reduce the burden of the pandemic by participating in behaviors that benefit people whose life circumstances make them especially vulnerable.


We tested the effect of reading narrative (i.e., story-like) as opposed to expository (i.e., factual recounting) messages on beliefs about protecting others in groups vulnerable during the pandemic through increased message transportation (i.e. immersing the reader into the story). Additionally, we examined if reading narratives, as opposed to expository messages, increased intentions to engage in prosocial behaviors that benefit these groups through increased transportation.


The study used a between-subjects design where participants either read narrative or expository messages about the experiences of people who were at greater exposure to SARS-CoV-2 due to social and political factors, namely people who were incarcerated or working in healthcare during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.


In line with pre-registered hypotheses, participants in the narrative (vs. expository) condition reported greater transportation into the message. We also observed indirect effects of narrative (vs. expository) messages, through increased message transportation, on: (1) beliefs that by physical distancing, one can protect vulnerable people (2) beliefs that members of the target groups (i.e., healthcare workers and people who are incarcerated), were vulnerable during the pandemic, (3) intentions to engage in prosocial behaviors that help family and friends, and (4) intentions to engage in prosocial behaviors that help members of vulnerable groups.


Together these results suggest that narratives can be used to motivate prosocial action during the COVID-19 pandemic to the extent that the narratives elicit transportation.

The Power of Being Heard: The Benefits of ‘Perspective-Giving’ in the Context of Intergroup Conflict

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2012 

Emile Bruneau, Rebecca Saxe


Although hundreds of dialogue programs geared towards conflict resolution are offered every year, there have been few scientific studies of their effectiveness. Across 2 studies we examined the effect of controlled, dyadic interactions on attitudes towards the ‘other’ in members of groups involved in ideological conflict. Study 1 involved Mexican immigrants and White Americans in Arizona, and Study 2 involved Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. Cross-group dyads interacted via video and text in a brief, structured, face-to-face exchange: one person was assigned to write about the difficulties of life in their society (‘perspective-giving’), and the second person was assigned to accurately summarize the statement of the first person (‘perspective-taking’). Positive changes in attitudes towards the outgroup were greater for Mexican immigrants and Palestinians after perspective-giving and for White Americans and Israelis after perspective-taking. For Palestinians, perspective-giving to an Israeli effectively changed attitudes towards Israelis, while a control condition in which they wrote an essay on the same topic without interacting had no effect on attitudes, illustrating the critical role of being heard. Thus, the effects of dialogue for conflict resolution depend on an interaction between dialogue condition and participants’ group membership, which may reflect power asymmetries.

How We Know It Hurts: Item Analysis of Written Narratives Reveals Distinct Neural Responses to Others’ Physical Pain and Emotional Suffering

PLOS ONE, 2013

Emile Bruneau, Nicholas Dufour, Rebecca Saxe


People are often called upon to witness, and to empathize with, the pain and suffering of others. In the current study, we directly compared neural responses to others’ physical pain and emotional suffering by presenting participants (n = 41) with 96 verbal stories, each describing a protagonist’s physical and/or emotional experience, ranging from neutral to extremely negative. A separate group of participants rated “how much physical pain”, and “how much emotional suffering” the protagonist experienced in each story, as well as how “vivid and movie-like” the story was. Although ratings of Pain, Suffering and Vividness were positively correlated with each other across stories, item-analyses revealed that each scale was correlated with activity in distinct brain regions. Even within regions of the “Shared Pain network” identified using a separate data set, responses to others’ physical pain and emotional suffering were distinct. More broadly, item analyses with continuous predictors provided a high-powered method for identifying brain regions associated with specific aspects of complex stimuli – like verbal descriptions of physical and emotional events.