Award Date

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Pierre Lienard

Second Committee Member

Alyssa Crittenden

Third Committee Member

Daniel Benyshek

Fourth Committee Member

Kathryn Hausbeck Korgan

Number of Pages



Scholars have described ethnic violence in great length and detail. Many of the social and

psychological causal mechanisms that facilitate the rapid mobilization of ethnic groups and the eventual violence that can ensue are less understood. Morality typically eases cooperative interactions between members of a community by establishing rules that help to restrain self- interested actions that may be harmful to others. It is well documented that during periods of increasing ethnic conflict once intimate neighbors, colleagues, and friends can be recruited to take part in violence against each other solely on account of declared ethnic differences. In such circumstances, the affiliation to an ethnic group appears to trump ordinary moral accommodations. Understanding how morality gets so readily transformed in inter-ethnic competition and conflict is challenging.

The research on which this dissertation is based was conducted in the Republic of Croatia. It examined the social and psychological variables that drive the dramatic and rapid shifts in moral reasoning that we can observe at the onset of ethnic conflict by focusing on memories of the Croatia Homeland War, reasoning about self and others’ behavior in situation of conflict, and decision-making about the moral actions of third-parties. Three studies are presented. Study 1 examines how an agent’s social position and commitment to a coalition affect her moral memories of the Croatian Homeland War. It is shown that participants strongly affiliated to an ethnic coalition recall more morally charged episodic memories of the war than those less affiliated. Study 2 focuses on narratives of war experience. Those narratives bear the hallmark of constraints of reasoning about coalitional antagonism and dynamics of coordination in time of collective conflict. Study 3 explores what features present in a social ecology might be responsible for the rapid shifts in moral accommodations witnessed during episodes of ethnic conflict. Participants from rural environments evaluate the harmful actions of third parties more harshly than urban participants and this effect is mediated by coordination, but only when harmful actions of moral scenarios involve characters belonging to different social units. The findings of the research suggest that social coordination plays a specific role in the generation of inter-ethnic aggression and the shrinking of the moral sphere that occurs in a coalitional landscape.


Coalitional Psychology; Croatia; Ethnic Violence; Evolutionary Psychology; Morality; Moral Psychology


Eastern European Studies | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




IN COPYRIGHT. For more information about this rights statement, please visit