Effects of an International Conflict Simulation on Perceptions of the Soviet Union: A FIREBREAKS Backfire

Melanie R. Trost, Robert B. Cialdini, Anne Maass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


FIREBREAKS is a nuclear war education game in which participants role play U.S. or Soviet advisors weighing possible military action in a simulated Persian Gulf conflict. As a consequence of the insights gained from the experience, game participants are expected to show (a) reduced nationalism, (b) reduced negativity toward the Soviets, (c) less reliance on nuclear solutions to conflicts, and (d) greater political activism on nuclear topics. However, on the basis of social psychological theory and research, we predicted and found that the team competition character of the game would lead to intergroup hostility and bias, thereby inhibiting the achievement of the game's implicit goals. Most players became less inclined toward nuclear activism, and U.S. team members showed more favoritism toward the United States and more negativity toward the Soviet Union as a result of game participation. We also predicted that creating a superordinate (i.e., unifying) identity before splitting players into competing teams would reduce the bias and, consequently, the negative outcomes of the game, but this manipulation was not effective. The findings emphasize the need for social scientists to provide theory‐ and research‐based counsel to groups developing societal interventions, and the importance of doing so at the design stages. 1989 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-158
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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