Ethnic and political conflicts have been part of human experience throughout history. The persistence of conflicts in contemporary times is evident in examples such as Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Basque Provinces, Chechnya, Rwanda, South Africa, Kashmir, and the Middle East. In these places groups clash and resort to violent means, including terrorism, atrocities, wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, that bring widespread suffering to the civilian population. In these conflicts psychological components play an important role. Group members act on the basis of the knowledge, images, attitudes, feelings, and emotions that they hold about the conflict; about their own past, present, and future as a group; and about the rival group. Although we do think that conflicts are about disagreements and contradictions with regard to real issues such as territories, self-determination, resources, or trade, we also believe that psychological determinants contribute greatly to their evolvement, maintenance, and management.
In discussing the psychological foundations of conflicts, the representation of the rival groups is of special importance, since it plays a determinative role in the intergroup relations. This representation, which includes cognitive-affective elements, determines the level of animosity, hostility, and mistrust between the groups that eventually may lead to violent acts that continue to reinforce the representation. In S. T. Fiske's words, “thinking is for doing” (1992, p. 877); we suggest that feeling as well as thinking about the other is for doing.