Social psychologists say war is not inevitable, psychology research should promote peace

Oct 17, 2013 by Janet Lathrop
This image shows Bernhard Leidner, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Credit: UMass Amherst

In a new review of how psychology research has illuminated the causes of war and violence, three political psychologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst say this understanding can and should be used to promote peace and overturn the belief that violent conflict is inevitable.

Writing in the current special "peace psychology" issue of American Psychologist, lead author Bernhard Leidner, Linda Tropp and Brian Lickel of UMass Amherst's Psychology of Peace and Violence program say that if social focuses only on how to soften the of war and , "it would fall far short of its potential and value for society."

"In summarizing psychological perspectives on the conditions and motivations that underlie violent ," says Tropp, "we find that psychology's contributions can extend beyond understanding the origins and nature of violence to promote nonviolence and peace." She adds, "We oppose the view that war is inevitable and argue that understanding the psychological roots of conflict can increase the likelihood of avoiding violence as a way to resolve conflicts with others."

Political leaders can be crucial in showing people different paths and alternatives to violent confrontation, the researchers point out. Leidner mentions Nelson Mandela, a leader who "offered South Africans an example of how to deal with the legacy of apartheid without resorting to further violence by making statements such as, 'If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.'"

Leidner and colleagues recall how political and social psychology researchers have in recent decades steadily gained more understanding, through research, of such psychological factors as intergroup threat, uncertainty, group identity, emotions, moral beliefs and how intergroup conflict affects views of the world and of oneself.

They review theory and research that specify that contribute to and perpetuate intergroup violence through emotional responses and belief systems fostered by conflict. Finally, they summarize ideas of how psychological "defenses of peace" –– a phrase in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) preamble –– can be constructed in the human mind.

The authors acknowledge that conflict and violence between groups persist because they often give people ways to address psychological needs, for identity, safety, security and power. Nonviolence has received far less media and research attention, they point out, but this should change. The UMass Amherst team urges social psychologists to consider factors that increase empathy and understanding of others, along with factors that increase the capacity for critical evaluation of the "ingroup."

They conclude, "Research that investigates how to mitigate negative consequences of war and violence is valuable," and the studies they summarize, grounded in "realistic insights," support the view that psychology can be applied to promote peace. "It is our contention that can and should be applied to promote , not war."

Explore further: Researchers urge early help for kindergarten students with low self-regulation

More information: psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/68/7/514/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study challenges assumptions on wartime sexual violence

Oct 10, 2012

A new study by the Simon Fraser University-based Human Security Report Project (HSRP), released today at the United Nations headquarters in New York, finds that there is no compelling evidence to support a host of widely ...

Scientists show how to make peace

Oct 19, 2011

Can science predict peace? Can scientific modeling help to end crises in today’s war-torn regions? New research from the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) says yes.

Understanding the cycle of violence

Sep 24, 2008

Researchers have long known that children who grow up in an aggressive or violent household are more likely to become violent or aggressive in future relationships. What has not been so clear is the developmental link between ...

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

Oct 23, 2014

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Oct 23, 2014

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

Oct 23, 2014

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

Data indicate there is no immigration crisis

Oct 22, 2014

Is there an "immigration crisis" on the U.S.-Mexico border? Not according to an examination of historical immigration data, according to a new paper from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Milou
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 17, 2013
Now, this is something we should be investing and also on education. The military get way too much attention. There is a better way.
ryggesogn2
2.5 / 5 (8) Oct 17, 2013
Socialists won't like this.
They need Hobbes to justify the oppressive state.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.8 / 5 (9) Oct 17, 2013
What is 'political psychology'??
psychological factors that contribute to and perpetuate intergroup violence through emotional responses and belief systems fostered by conflict
The psychology is easy to understand. 'My children are starving. My religion tells me it is your fault. If you are gone my children will have enough to eat.' Etc. The other side has a religion which is telling them the same thing.

Religions demand that their adherents produce more children than the competition with the intent of outgrowing and overrunning them. This is only a formalization of the tribal dynamic; internal altruism in conjunction with external animosity. Religion makes it a mandate and points it at specific enemies. The ones which were better at it are the ones which have survived.

There can be no peace until these cultures are all destroyed. This can be done by turning them against one another as we can see in the middle east at present. There will never be peace as long as they exist.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.2 / 5 (10) Oct 17, 2013
Socialists won't like this
On a related note:

"Haiti, Pakistan among countries with highest amount of modern slavery, global index finds

"Almost half are in India, where slavery ranges from bonded labour in quarries and kilns to commercial sex exploitation, although the scourge exists in all 162 countries surveyed by Walk Free, an Australian-based rights group.

Its estimate of 29.8-million slaves worldwide is higher than other attempts to quantify modern slavery. The International Labour Organization estimates that almost 21-million people are victims of forced labour"

-This is what happens in free markets ryggy when the supply of labor exceeds demand. Ambitious entrepreneurs must pay people less for work or else be run out of business by those who will. The most ambitious can afford to pay them 0.

Socialism emerged to correct this chronic inequity of free markets in overpopulated religion-based cultures. Free markets makes socialism inevitable in these societies.
VendicarE
2.8 / 5 (4) Oct 17, 2013
"Socialists won't like this.
They need Hobbes to justify the oppressive state." - RyggTard

Is that why Conservatvies invented Al-Queda, invisible WMD in Iraq, Nuclear weapons that the Russians never had, Military threats from Nicaragua, Vietnam, Grenada, etc?

Modernmystic
2 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2013
Is that why Conservatvies invented Al-Queda,


Osama bin Laden didn't do that one? "Conservatives" get the blame for that one too? LOL.

invisible WMD in Iraq,


Tell that to the people in Halabja.

Nuclear weapons that the Russians never had


Do you mean they overestimated? If so by how much? If they still had enough to blow up the world six times over as opposed to ten...then...well I fail to see the point on that one I guess.