7 December 2020
14:15 - 15:45
online (see links below)

Seminar: Rezarta Bilali – Countering extremism in West Africa

Title of the talk:

Harnessing the power of stories to promote peace. Evidence from a randomized controlled trial of a narrative intervention to counter violent extremism in West Africa.



Stories are a fundamental way through which we understand the world. They provide scripts that help people make sense of ongoing realities and imagine a different reality. Narrative interventions use the power of storytelling to tackle social problems and impact individual and social change by providing a new understanding of reality and modeling potential solutions. In this presentation, I will present a line of research examining the processes through which narrative intervention to promote peace delivered through media influence attitudes and behaviors related to reconciliation. Then, I will focus on a recent large-scale field experiment, in which I examine whether a narrative intervention can be effective strategy to shift behavioral intentions and attitudes in contexts affected by violent extremism. I conducted a cluster randomized controlled trial in 132 villages in Burkina Faso (N = 2,904 participants). Following a baseline survey, randomly selected participants in intervention villages participated in weekly group listening sessions of a narrative intervention in the format of a radio drama (6 months content) over a 12-week period. Compared to control, the intervention reduced justification of violence, increased willingness to collaborate with the security forces, increased awareness of VE and governance as priorities to be addressed by the government, and increased self- and collective efficacy to impact change in one’s community. However, the intervention did not influence other outcomes assessed. I discuss how the features of the narrative content in conjunction with the interpretation and the moral lessons drawn in social interactions during and following the listening sessions shape the impact of the narrative intervention.



Rezarta Bilali is Associate Professor of Psychology and Social Intervention at New York University. She received her PhD in social psychology with a concentration in peace and violence from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her research focuses on the social psychological underpinnings of intergroup conflict and violence in various conflict settings. In one line of research, Dr. Bilali seeks to understand the influence of group identities on intergroup conflict, and the psychological underpinnings of conflict narratives, specifically focusing on group members’ denial or acknowledgement of past collective violence, the factors that drive denial narratives, and strategies to address these narratives. In another line of research, she merges theory and practice by working with non-governmental organizations to develop and evaluate violence prevention and reconciliation media programs. Prior to joining NYU, Dr. Bilali worked as an Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.


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