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Individual and social transformations : growth and reconciliation in Rwanda Arnold, Jobb

Abstract

Rwanda has changed drastically since the 1994 genocide; however, the long-term effects of the experiences on individual Rwandans remain unclear. As the country continues to move toward the reconciliation of Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, there are concerns that old animosities, lingering malice and the sheer scale of trauma inflicted upon this nation may be too much for this social process to succeed. The present sample consisted of 43 Rwandan university students. Study 1 investigated the effects of individual level trauma and sense of coherence (SOC) on psychological growth and attitudes toward reconciliation. There were main effects of trauma and SOC as well as an interaction between the two which predicted post-traumatic growth (as indicated by self-reported positive personal transformations; e.g. spiritual meaning, personal relationship and life priorities; Almedom, 2005; Antonovsky, 1987). Psychological growth predicted greater openness to reconciliation extending previous findings that link trauma :symptoms to less openness to reconciliation (Pham et al., 2004). Results also showed that disclosing one's story following the genocide reduced its negative impact years later. This provides cross-cultural corroboration with past research with Holocaust survivors and provides further evidence contrary to notions of survivor guilt (Cassel & Suedfeld, 2006; Eitinger, 1964). Study 2 used archival samples to examine the cognitive structure of 3 groups of Rwandans at: pre-genocide, genocide and post-genocide time periods. Findings demonstrated a general pattern of decreased complexity during the genocide and higher levels of complexity in the years following. These findings suggest that severe trauma can lead individuals to re-assess basic assumptions about the world resulting in more integrative thinking and psychological preparedness (Janoff-Bulman, 1992; Suedfeld, 1997). Potential linkages between PTG and cognitive structure are discussed.

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