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Chapter 13

Conflict and Peacemaking

  • Peace
    • a state of tranquility or quiet (Merriam-Webster).
    • a condition marked by low hostility and aggression and mutually beneficial relationships (Myers &Twenge, 2021).
  • Conflict
    • An antagonistic state or action (Merriam-Webster).
    • a perceived incompatibility of actions or goals (Myers & Twenge, 2021).

Conflict and Peace

Examples: the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Tragedy of the Commons.

  • Many problems that threaten our future happen because various parties pursue their self-interests.
  • Choices that are individually rewarding are damaging to the collective.
Question: What are some choices people make that are rewarding to themselves, but damaging to the collective?
  • Social trap
    • a situation in which conflicting parties, each rationally pursuing its self-interest, become caught in mutually destructive behavior.

Social Dilemmas

The Tragedy of the Commons
The Prisoner's Dilemma

In each box, the number above the diagonal is prisoner A’s outcome. Thus, if both prisoners confess, both get five years. If neither confesses, each gets a year. If one confesses, that prisoner is set free in exchange for evidence used to convict the other of a crime bringing a 10-year sentence. If you were one of the prisoners, unable to communicate with your fellow prisoner, would you confess?

The Classic Prisoner’s Dilemma


  • Both games—the Prisoner’s Dilemma and The Tragedy of the Commons—have features in common.
    • Fundamental attribution error—both tempt people to explain their behavior situationally, but their partner’s behavior as dispositional.
      • "I had to protect myself against exploitation" (situation)
      • "They are just greedy" (disposition)
  • Non-zero-sum games
    • in which outcomes need not sum to zero.
    • With cooperation, both can win; with competition, both can lose!

Social Dilemmas


    1. Regulation—safeguarding the common good.
      1. How many would pay taxes if it were voluntary?
    1. Making the group small so that each person feels more responsible and effective and identifies more with the group’s success.
    2. Communicating effectively: see next slide for an example.
    3. Change the payoffs (commuter lanes and electric car incentives).
    4. Appealing to altruistic norms (having an altruistic leader make an appeal).

Ways to Encourage Mutual Betterment

If you give away your money, the experimenter will double your gift (the amount you are giving away) but the other participants will not be told if you chose to keep your $6 or give it away.

  • If all seven give: everyone gets $12
  • If only you keep your $6 and all the others give, you pocket $18
  • If you give and no one else does, you get $0
What Dawes (1980, 1994) found was that without communicating about 30% of people gave. With discussion where they could establish trust and cooperation, 80% gave!

You and six strangers are participants in an experiement

Here are the choices for each participant:

  1. You can each have $6.
  2. Or you can donate your $6 to the other six participants.

Why Communication is Important

Article: The troubling legacy of the Robbers Cave experiment.


There were no cultural, physical, or economic differences between the groups.

  • Hostilities can arise when groups compete for scarce jobs, housing, or resources.
    • Perceived threats feed prejudice and conflict; and prejudice also amplifies the perception of a threat.
  • Example: Sherif’s experiments with the Rattlers and Eagles boys’ groups.
    • Win-lose competition produced intense conflict, negative images of the outgroup, and strong ingroup cohesiveness and pride.



  • People perceive justice as equity—the distribution of rewards in proportion to individuals’ contributions.
    • If you contribute more and benefit less, you feel exploited.
    • This is the western countries-capitalist way.
  • Some noncapitalist cultures define justice not as equity but as equality - everyone getting the same share or everyone getting the share they need.
  • Regardless, those with social power usually convince themselves and others that they deserve what they are getting.
    • The "golden rule": whoever has the gold makes the rules.

Perceived Injustice


  • Conflict is a perceived incompatibility of actions and goals—so a big problem is misperceptions of others’ motives and goals.
  • Seeds of misperception:
    • Self-serving bias (taking credit for good deeds, but no responsibility for bad ones).
    • Tendency to self-justify (I barely hit him!).
    • Fundamental attribution error (The other side has evil dispositions).
    • Preconceptions (We filter information to fit our perceptions).
    • Groupthink (failing to act so group harmony is kept).
    • Ingroup bias (favoring your own group...often to a fault).
    • Persistent negative stereotypes of the outgroup.



  • Social psychologists Ervin Staub and Daniel Bar-Tal (2003) argue a group in ongoing conflict will have these qualities:
    • Sees its own goals as supremely important.
    • Takes pride in “us” and devalues “them.”
    • Believes itself victimized.
    • Elevates patriotism, solidarity, a loyalty to their group’s needs.
    • Celebrates self-sacrifice.
    • Suppresses criticism.

People in conflict form distorted images of one another.



  • Mirror-image perceptions
    • Parties in conflict often hold reciprocal views of each other.
    • For example, each may view itself as moral and peace-loving and the other as evil and aggressive.
  • These negative mirror-image perceptions have been an obstacle to peace in many places.
    • Examples:
      • the myside bias: torture seems morally justified when "we" rather than "they" do it.
      • political polarization in the U.S.: both major parties see love and benevolence on their side, and hatred and evil on the other.

Misperceptions of Those in Conflict are Mutual


  • Group conflicts are often fueled by an illusion that the enemy’s top leaders are evil, but their people are pro- "us".
    • Evil leader-good people
  • When tension rises, rational thinking becomes more difficult, and views of the enemy become more simplistic and stereotyped.
  • Misperceptions shift, appearing and disappearing as conflicts wax and wane.
    • The same processes that create the enemy’s image can reverse it when the enemy becomes an ally.
  • 10 wars from the past century were analyzed by Kurt Lewin and Ronald Lippit (2004) and each was marked by at least one of these three misperceptions:
    • underestimating the strength of the enemy
    • rationalizing one's motives and behavior
    • demonizing the ememy



  • Sometimes hostilities transform into friendships. How?
  • Social psychologists focus on four peacemaking strategies, easily remembered as the four Cs:
    • Contact.
    • Cooperation.
    • Communication.
    • Conciliation.

How Can Peace Be Achieved?



  • Proximity boosts liking, and attitudes follow behavior.
    • Increased contact, even indirect (such as via social media sites), leads to decreased prejudice.
  • Pluralistic ignorance
    • Wanting to "mix" with those from another group but misperceiving that the other group does not reciprocate these feelings.



  • Sometimes, desegregation improves racial attitudes, and sometimes it does not.
    • When desegregation might not: self-segregation.
    • Or forced interactions.
      • When students of a different race are paired as roommates or partners in an experiment, they are less likely to engage in self-disclosure than those in same-race relationships (Johnson et al., 2009; Trail et al., 2009).
    • School desegregation did not really change attitudes much for Blacks towards Whites, but desegregated housing and Army rifle companies did.
  • Desegregation can improve racial attitudes, but it is less likely when there is anxiety or a perceived threat.



Source: From Dixon & Durrheim (2003).

After this Scottburgh, South Africa, beach became “open” and desegregated in the new South Africa, Blacks (represented by red dots), whites (blue dots), and Indians (yellow dots) tended to cluster with their own race.

Desegregation Doesn't Mean Contact



  • 516 studies with 250,000 people from 38 different nations were analyzed, and in 94% of the studies, increased contact decreased prejudice (Tropp & Pettigrew, 2005; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008, 2011).
    • Interestingly, researchers found this was especially true for majority group attitudes towards minorities (Durrheim et al. 2011; Gibson & Claassen, 2010).
    • And more likely in individualistic cultures (Kende et al., 2018).

Does Contact Predict Attitudes?


  • Interracial contact produces numerous benefits, especially with the formation of friendships.
    • Reducing anxiety: more contact brings greater comfort
    • Increasing empathy: contact helps people put themselves in others' shoes
    • Humanizing others: enabling people to discover their similarities
    • Decreasing perceived threats: alleviating overblown fears and increasing trust

Interracial Contact


  • Positive contact boosts liking. However, negative contact increases disliking. And negative contact has more impact even though we mostly have positive interactions.
  • It’s important that the contact be equal-status contact



  • Having a common enemy can unify groups.
    • "I couldn't help but say to [Mr. Gorbachev], just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species from another planet. [We'd] find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this earth together"
-Ronald Reagan 1985 speech
  • Superordinate goals foster cooperation.
    • Subordinate goal
      • a shared goal that necessitates a cooperative effort, a goal that overrides people's differences from one another (Sherif's creating a problem with the water supply).



Source: Gallup, 2006.

As President George W. Bush’s approval ratings illustrate, national conflicts can mold public attitudes.

External Threats Breed Internal Unity


  • Cooperative learning improves racial attitudes.
    • Survey data from 2,400 students in 71 US high schools showed that students of different races who played and worked together were likelier to report having friends of another race.
    • 3,200 middle-school students who were in schools that had interracial "learning teams" vs. those who promoted competition had more positive racial attitudes

Cooperative Learning



  • Bargaining
    • seeking an agreement to a conflict through direct negotiation between parties.
    • Tough bargaining may lower the other party’s expectations, making them willing to settle for less, but it can sometimes backfire.
      • G.W. Bush publicly declared he would "kick Saddam's ass", so Saddam Hussein declared "infidel American's would swim in their own blood" (lose-lose).
  • Mediationan attempt by a neutral third party to resolve a conflict by facilitating communication and offering suggestions.

Communication Techniques


  • Integrative agreements
    • Mediators try to establish win-win agreements that reconcile both parties’ interests for mutual benefit.
    • Communication often helps reduce self-fulfilling misperceptions.
      • Ex: Sisters fighting over an orange agree to split it in half. One used her half for juice and the other used the rind for a cake. Had they each explained why, one could have gotten all the juice and the other all of the peel

Communication Techniques


  • Key factor in successful communication is trust.
    • Even simple behaviors can enhance trust.
      • Ex: mimicking the other person's mannerisms, hearing from others views in person.
  • Arbitration: resolution of a conflict by a neutral third party who studies both sides and imposes a settlement.
    • Used when mediation does not help resolve the conflict.
    • If people know they will face an arbitrated settlement if mediation fails, they often try harder to resolve the problem and are more likely to reach agreement.

Controlled Communication


  • People who are 100% cooperative are often exploited
  • GRIT
    • acronym for “graduated and reciprocated initiatives in tension reduction”—a strategy designed to de-escalate international tensions.
    • One side initiates a few de-escalatory actions after announcing a conciliatory intent, and then the initiator carries out, exactly as announced, verifiable conciliatory acts.
    • These acts intensify the pressure to reciprocate.
      • When police do not use tear gas, etc., to de-escalate protesters, the event is likely to stay peaceful.
  • The remaining aspects of the plan protect each side’s self-interest by maintaining retaliatory capability.
    • The initial conciliatory steps involve small risks but do not jeopardize each side's security. So, the steps are calculated to begin edging both sides down the tension ladder.



How Couples Can Argue Constructively


  • Some social scientists have advocated a communitarian approach to balancing individual rights with the collective right to communal well-being.
    • A middle ground between individualism and collectivism.

Concluding Thoughts: The Conflict Between Individual and Communal Rights