Research

US- GERMANY JOINT PROJECT: THE TRANSFORMATION OF MEMORY ACROSS GENERATIONS: INTERDISCIPLINARY VIEWS

This project in collaboration with Konstanz University, Germany seeks to examine the role of cultural memory in the democratization process. The goal of our project is to further our understanding of how countries transitioning from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one transmit and transform cultural memories across generations. The aim is to better understand the relationship between cultural memory and democratization both at the societal and individual level of analyses. At a broader level, our project is intended to establish a base for developing collaborative teaching and research links between German and U.S. universities.


 THE HOLOCAUST LEGACY STUDY AT HARVARD

This project focused on the legacy of the holocaust. It examines the ways in which the legacy of the holocaust impact affect, cognition, and behavior at both the individual and social level. The key idea is that beliefs and feelings about injustice are passed on from generation to generation.

Interviews with children of Nazis and children of Holocaust survivors suggest that memories of a past injustice trigger a range of negative emotions such as anger, contempt, resentment, and guilt. Also, memories of a past injustice elicit beliefs and attitudes about the other group.
         
We proposed that such transgenerational memories would emerge during social interactions. To this end, we organized a first-of-its kind conference for children of Nazis and of Holocaust survivors in the U.S. and a year later replicated the study in Germany. Adult children came face-to-face for a four-day conference at the Harvard Medical Education Center. The discussions were videotaped and later transcribed.

An analysis of group interaction was obtained from a study of content differences, and also from sequential analyses of the data. The data show that Nazis’ children and survivors’ children tend to engage in negative reciprocity. Their parents’ views and feelings were passed down to them, and stand as obstacles to establishing equal moral relations. These findings suggest that, paradoxically, desiring to right a past injustice may result in perpetuating stereotype beliefs and group polarization.

Besides the magazine publications in which the study featured, including Psychology Today. Ms., and Harvard Magazine, the study received coverage in the New York Times, the Boston Herald, and several other daily newspapers.

The study was also featured on many radio and TV shows, including National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, the BBC, the CBS Sunday Morning News, “The Past Between Them and in NBC Dateline, “Journey to Understanding”.


THE PSYCHOTHERAPY STUDY AT HARVARD

This project, conducted with my husband, Daniel Giacomo, then a Harvard psychiatrist, focused on predictors of psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy is a $2.5 billion business in the United States. But, no one can answer the basic question of how therapy works. No one school of therapy has proven superior to another. In fact, studies that attempt to prove the superiority of one method over another have failed. Our project provides much-needed answers to these puzzling questions of what therapists actually do when they are effective.

The study provides a mode of evaluation that focuses not on a particular school of therapy but on the relationship between therapist and patient. Over the past two decades, studies have shown that success in therapy has much to do with this relationship even though none can account for what takes place when therapy works well.  Results from the study show that good therapeutic relationships are far from intuitive. The data demonstrate that successful relationships follow a pattern of behaviors that can be identified and quantified. Often these behaviors have little to do with the rational, theoretical accounts provided in psychotherapy textbooks. Likewise, positive changes in the patient, observed through client feedback and case studies can be described operationally; they involve the process of overcoming feelings of detachment, helplessness, and rigidity and becoming involved, effective, and adaptable.

Our study provides a tool for measuring therapeutic effectiveness and further understanding human transformation.

THE DESCENDANTS OF SLAVES AND SLAVE OWNERS STUDY IN CHICAGO

This project focused on the legacy of slavery. It examines the way an historic injustice impacts race relations in the United States. Twenty people – half of them descendants of slaves, the rest descendants of slave owners gathered in Chicago for a four-day discussion. The data show that when an injustice occurs, stories get passed down. And with the stories come anger and hate. The feelings perpetuate themselves. While the meeting’s discussion was often painfully frank, those involved say the payoff was mutual understanding.

The study was featured in Psychology Today and the Chicago Tribune. It was also featured in a TV show, PBS Channel 11's Image Union, Chicago: WTTW. “Coming to the Table”.

THE INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE IN CHICAGO

In 1995, I wrote a proposal to establish an Institute for Social Justice to promote the research program that I had developed. In 1999, through a generous gift the Institute for Social Justice was established in Chicago. The Institute, which I founded and directed gave me the unique opportunity to develop an integrated program of research, outreach, and curriculum focused on social justice matters that culminated in the publication of my book Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II (Oxford University Press). Now, I am extending my research on justice matters to the political sphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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