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Spite, Fear, and Intergroup Conflict: Evidence from Muslims and Christians in Nigeria

Institutions & Governance Nigeria

Credit: Miguel Ortiz, Jos Nigeria

Study Context

While the high societal costs generated by conflict between social identity groups in the developing world are well-known, there is little clarity on the microfoundations of such conflict. Expressions of intergroup conflict, like group segregation and community armament, could be driven by the spiteful preference to harm the other or they can be taken on due to fear of being harmed by the other. Understanding which one is the main driver has important policy implications. With this funding, Miguel hopes to empirically disentangle intergroup feelings of spite vs fear, and evaluate how popular policies that want to promote cooperation affect these two channels.


The project will take place in Jos, Nigeria, a state capital situated in the region of the country where the Muslim North and Christian South meet. Historically, the city had been populated with Christians and Muslims living in harmony. However a spontaneous outbreak of violence in 2001 and subsequent crises in 2004, 2008, and 2011 broke trust between the communities and set in motion a process of segregation. Nowadays there is virtually no contact between groups with politicians fueling negative narratives on the outgroup for political gain.

Study Design

First, Miguel will use a lab-in-the-field approach to measure levels of cooperation, preferences and beliefs and calibrate a model that will allow him to disentangle to what extent conflict is driven by spite vs fear. Then, Miguel will randomly give participants access to a radio drama that promotes intergroup cooperation, a popular policy in this context. Following this period, participants will once again take the surveys from the beginning of the study to see how their perceptions of the outgroup and their own orientations have since changed.


This study builds on a pilot study of 44 people which suggested feelings of fear are far more prevalent than feelings of spite and that radio dramas may be an effective policy towards encouraging intergroup cooperation.


Results and Policy Lessons

Results forthcoming.


2023 — ongoing

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