Emotions and Flight from Violence: Evidence from Punjabi/English Video Archives

Image credit: Aidan Milliff


When people are exposed to violence, do their emotional experiences help explain what they will do in order to survive? Which emotions predict politically consequential strategies like fleeing violence? I analyze an under-used and widely available source of individual data about experiences of violence––archives of videotaped oral histories––to show that propensity to flee violence is associated with experiencing fear and surprise. I apply a pre-trained computer vision classifier to label basic emotions in over 35,000 video frames from an archive of over 500 oral history videos from the 1984 Living History Project, an organization that collects stories from Sikhs who experienced civil war and pogrom violence in the Indian states of Punjab and Delhi in 1984. Patterns in the emotion labels show that experiencing fear and anger together is associated with conflict-induced migration/fleeing. I validate these findings with two complimentary methods: measurement of appraisals (emotion proxies) in the oral history transcripts via a custom-tuned multi-lingual NLP model, and qualitative analysis of over 200 histories.

Aidan Milliff
Aidan Milliff
Assistant Professor