Intense, severe, and persevering conflicts constitute a powerful context that has a determinative influence on individual and group functioning. The context of conflict breeds a particular culture that highlights issues related to the conflict and shapes the representation of one's own group and of the adversary group.
Intergroup conflicts are defined as situations in which a group considers its goals and interests to be obstructed by the goals or interests of an opposing group (Kriesberg, 1998a; Mitchell, 1981; Rubin, Pruitt, & Kim, 1994). They are probably inevitable in any intergroup relations because groups have such a variety of goals and interests that at least some are likely to be contradicted by the goals and interests of another group. Thus, conflict is an inseparable part of intergroup relations and periodically may occur even between two allied groups that generally enjoy a friendly relationship.
In the past, a number of social psychologists proposed that situations of conflict generate negative stereotyping and prejudice. Allport in his seminal book The nature of prejudice notes, on the one hand, the appearance of prejudice and stereotyping in situations of conflict and, on the other, their contribution to the nature of the conflict.
[T]here are many economic, international, and ideological conflicts that represent a genuine clash of interests. Most of the rivalries that result, however, take on a great amount of excess baggage. Prejudice, by clouding the issue, retards conflict solution of the core conflict. In most instances the rivalry that is perceived is inflated…. In the international sphere, disputes are magnified through the addition of irrelevant stereotypes…. Realistic conflict is like a note on an organ. It sets all prejudices that are attuned to it into simultaneous vibration.