Historical Trauma and Transformation
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Current Research - Melike Fourie

Perceptions of structural racism and historical responsibility under conditions of crisis

Principal Investigators: Melike Fourie (SU), Wilhelm Verwoerd (SU)

This project was conducted during the South African peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and sought to explore whether the disruption in public life during lockdown conditions shifted White South Africans' perceptions in terms of (i) ongoing structural racism in South Africa, (ii) their historical implication as beneficiaries of apartheid injustices, and (iii) their personal responsibility for redress (i.e., social justice), or whether the pandemic strengthened a culture of paternalistic emergency relief. We were furthermore interested in determining whether moral affect (e.g., guilt, shame, righteous anger, and empathy) strengthened such potential associations.

Empathy in response to forgiveness and remorse: A Neuroimaging study

Principal Investigators: Melike Fourie (SU), Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (SU)

Collaborators: Jean Decety (Chicago University), Dan Stein (UCT), Mark Solms (UCT)


This study examined empathic responses of Black and White South African adults from the general population in response to video-footage from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings. Specifically, video clips portrayed Black and White victims of apartheid violence either showing forgiveness or not, or perpetrators of that violence either showing remorse or not. Participants' level of everyday discrimination was also recorded to examine possible associations with empathic response in historically oppressed/disadvantaged versus unoppressed/advantaged groups.


Intergroup empathic failures in response to complex narrative videos

Principal Investigator: Melike Fourie (SU)

Collaborator: Emile Bruneau (University of Pennsylvania)


The current project seeks to examine empathic failures between White and Black South Africans using ecologically valid, complex narrative video stimuli. Specifically, to better characterize neural mechanisms underlying implicit empathic biases, we want to analyze neural activation patterns over time using intersubject correlation (ISC) analysis. This will allow us to extend previous research by using engaging visual narrative stimuli to examine empathic responses over time and in racial groups characterized by historical conflict. The project will also implement an intervention aimed at increasing intergroup empathy to investigate its potential in mitigating between-group differences in neural activation.


South African Workplace Transformation Project

Collaborators: Melike Fourie (SU), Hermann Swart (SU), Kim Wale (SU), Miles Hewstone (Oxford University)


South African society is currently facing a political and moral crisis. Despite the ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness that helped birth the new democracy, notions of equality do not seem to have filtered down into the everyday experiences of race in South Africa. Instead, our current reality is fraught with racial tensions, increasing economic inequality and geographic segregation, and our identity politics seem more problematic than in 1994. The present study seeks to explore South African racial (as well as gender) dynamics in the context of the workplace and against the backdrop of the institutional transformation goals. Both quantitative and qualitative measures will be employed to assess how transformation is experienced within a population of (at least theoretically) economically empowered people, what role the workplace plays in terms of promoting social cohesion and/or reducing stereotypes, and the role of intergroup contact in mediating these effects.


Predictors of intergroup outcomes and conflict in the South African context

Principal Investigator: Melike Fourie (SU)

Collaborator: Emile Bruneau (University of Pennsylvania)


This research explores some of the psychological processes that appear to be driving intergroup conflict and hostility in South Africa. Specifically, survey measures are employed to assess potential predictors of negative outgroup responses in terms of support for collective action in a large South African sample of Black, White, and Coloured participants. Measures assessed include collective blame of outgroup individuals, dehumanization and meta-perceptions of outgroup dehumanization, and parochial empathy (i.e., empathy felt for members of one's own group versus members of the outgroup). A secondary aim is to compare responses intergenerationally, that is, between an older apartheid generation and younger members of the population that were born post-apartheid.