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Military Conflict and Terrorism

Military Conflict and Terrorism

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Military Conflict and Terrorism: General Psychology InformsInternational Relations
Lyle E. Bourne Jr., Alice F. Healy, and Francis A. Beer
University of Colorado at BoulderSeveral experiments, focusing on decisions made by young, voting-age citizens of theUnited States about how to respond to incidents of international conflict, are summa-rized. Participants recommended measured reactions to an initial attack. Repeatedattacks led to escalated reaction, however, eventually matching or exceeding theconflict level of the attack itself. If a peace treaty between contending nations was inplace, women were more forgiving of an attack, and men were more aggressive. Therewas little overall difference in reactions to terrorist versus military attacks. Participantsresponded with a higher level of conflict to terrorist attacks on military than oncultural–educational targets.
The end of the East–West cold war and thefall of the Berlin Wall were triggers for majorpeace efforts and serious attempts to settle long-standing political disputes among nations. Oneof the most visible transitional events, of course,was the reunification of Germany, but therehave been numerous other more recent exam-ples of progress (and sometimes regress) in theMiddle East, in Northern Ireland, on the Koreanpeninsula, in India/Pakistan, and elsewhere.These developments provided a context for re-cent trends toward peaceful international rela-tions, and there was an enormous amount of literature produced by political scientists in aneffort to understand these trends (e.g., Tanter,1999; Volkan, 1999). But progress towardpeace has recently been derailed by the shock-ing events of September 11, 2001, and theUnited States and many of its allies are cur-rently engaged in an all-out new kind of war, awar against terrorism.Over the 15 years before September 11, whilepeace-oriented international developments wereunfolding, we conducted a series of laboratoryexperiments, paralleling real internationalevents, to examine how young citizens of theUnited States understand and react to episodesof international conflict and conflict resolution.The earliest of these studies explored militaryconflicts among nations, whereas the more re-cent studies contrasted military conflict withterrorist attacks and then focused on terrorism,fortuitously anticipating the events of Septem-ber 11. One purpose of this work has been todetermine whether there are any tried and truegeneral psychological principles that might helpto understand why international events unfoldas they do, why political decision makers act theway they do, and how decisions made by dip-lomats might differ from those made by thegeneral public. But it should be noted that par-ticipants in these studies, thus far, have beenlimited to college students. Generalizationsfrom these results to real or expert politicaldecision making are unclear, and their justifica-tion remains to be determined.
Priming and Personality in InternationalDisputes
In all of our experiments, we ask young adultcollege student participants to evaluate mostlyfictitious news reports describing aggressiveacts against the United States or against an allyof the United States by a nonaligned, opposi-tional country.
Lyle E. Bourne Jr. and Alice F. Healy, Department of Psychology, University of Colorado at Boulder; Francis A.Beer, Department of Political Science, University of Colo-rado at Boulder.This article is based on a Division 1 (Society for GeneralPsychology) presidential address delivered by Lyle E.Bourne Jr. at the 2001 annual convention of the AmericanPsychological Association in San Francisco.Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-dressed to Lyle E. Bourne Jr., Department of Psychology,University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0345.E-mail: lbourne@psych.colorado.edu
Review of General Psychology Copyright 2003 by the Educational Publishing Foundation2003, Vol. 7, No. 2, 189202 1089-2680/03/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/1089-2680.7.2.189
189
 
Priming
Our
rst study was modeled on the disputebetween Great Britain and Argentina over theFalkland (Malvinas) Islands (Beer, Healy, Sin-clair, & Bourne, 1987). The experiment beganwith a
ctional scenario, read by participants,based on the then recently concluded (1982)confrontation. We asked participants to choosean appropriate reaction from a list of alterna-tives, graded in con
ict level, for one
ctitiouscountry, called Afslandia, to take in response toan action taken by another
ctitious country,Bagumba, over some disputed territory. Thesame request was repeated over several roundsof action and reaction between the two contend-ing countries.The main focus of this study was on theeffects of priming: priming by texts read bysome participants before any action decisions.One group of participants read a brief but com-pelling description of events leading up toWorld War II, focusing on the policy of West-ern statesmen in dealing with Germany
s inva-sion of Czechoslovakia. The clear point of thestory was that, when a country engages in war-like aggression against another country, escala-tion of con
ict is inevitable and diplomatic ef-forts after peace are futile. Appeasement canonly lead to wider, longer disputes. This de-scription was written in a way so as to prime acon
ictual, stand-up-for-your-rights attitude inreaders. Another group read a description of thematerial and human costs of international con-
ict. The horrors of trench warfare duringWorld War I, the suffering of military personnelon both sides, and the latent effects of thisexperience on the postwar morale and econo-mies of contending countries were vividly de-scribed. This narrative was intended to primecooperative, paci
st, noncon
ictual responses.The remaining participants were given no prim-ing text before they read the con
ict scenario.Our theory was that any text about internationalinteraction might call to the readers
mind oneor more general schemas representing relevantor analogous previous experiences or knowl-edge. On the basis of what we know aboutpriming, then, we expected that the
rst vignettewould prime participants to adopt an aggressiveattitude toward the contemporary con
ict andthat the second vignette would have the oppo-site effect.
 Individual Differences in Personality
After we completed this study, reports beganto appear supporting a role for individual per-sonality variables in real-life political decisionmaking. Satter
eld and Seligman (1994), forexample, suggested that it might be possible topredict high-level international decisions fromthe personal explanatory styles of political de-cision makers. They derived a measure of ex-planatory style for George Bush and SaddamHussein, based on content analysis of publicstatements made by these two national leadersat various points in time during the Gulf War.Statements were scored on the dimensions of internality
externality of event control, stabil-ity
instability of event causes over time, andglobality
speci
city of event effects. Fromthese scores, Satter
eld and Seligman computeda composite measure of explanatory or attribu-tional style for each leader. This compositemeasure was highly and reliably predictive of the level of aggression and degree of risk takingrepresented in the subsequent decisions and ac-tions of Bush and Hussein. Interestingly, thecorrelations were higher for Bush, suggesting agreater reliance in his case on personal convic-tion as opposed to rational decision. A similarinterest in individual differences also led us tomeasure, among our participants, certain per-sonality traits (using the 16 PF; Institute forPersonality and Ability Testing, 1979) that wethought might be related to political decisionmaking regarding international disputes.
 Experimental Results
We found that, relative to the no-primingcontrol, both of the war-priming vignettes pro-duced signi
cant effects on the con
ict levelexpressed in our participants
action responses.But these effects were not simple. Both primespotentiated high levels of aggressive reaction bythose participants who were high on the domi-nant end of the 16 PF dominant
submissivepersonality trait. The opposite was true of sub-missive participants, those at the low end of thedominant
submissive scale. Submissive partic-ipants responded signi
cantly more weakly thancontrols to con
ictual acts by the other side whenprimed by either war-related vignette, as shown inFigure 1. These
ndings imply that the speci
ccontent of the priming vignette is less important
190 BOURNE, HEALY, AND BEER
 
than simply reminding participants about pastwars. It seems that any war-related vignette willactivate underlying personality predispositionsthat enhance or inhibit aggressive military decisions.Results of the
rst experiment indicated that,at least for young American citizens, peace
wardecisions are not necessarily undertaken on thebasis of rational calculation of bene
ts andcosts, although rational choice is surely a majorpart of real or elite political decision making.We suggest that decisions, especially those thatare made serially and at a tactical level byordinary citizens, are likely to be affected sig-ni
cantly by the schemas or images called tomind by the stream of events and by overallpredispositions to respond submissively ordominantly. However, even in the real world of policy making, primes and personality mightoperate, possibly in subtle and informal ways,as signals or cues that
ow through the streamof political events. Their effects might very wellhelp to explain why different major players onthe political scene
like Bush and Hussein dur-ing the Gulf War or Sharon and Arafat today
react quite differently to the same events, eventsthat might lead to cooperation and peace if reacted to in the same way by both sides.
The Role of Peace Treaties and of Gender
There was some suggestion in this
rst ex-periment that men and women react differentlyto acts of international aggression, as one mightexpect intuitively. But the numbers of men andwomen were not balanced across conditions.Thus, we corrected that
aw in subsequent stud-ies, and the results highlight not only the in
u-ence of personality variations but also an ex-traordinary and unanticipated gender differencein naive political decision making. In the nextstudy, we were primarily interested in the effectthat the existence of a peace treaty might haveon an individual
s expression of con
ict in re-action to an international attack. One mightreasonably expect a peace treaty to minimizecon
ictual interactions between nations. Themain question was, What happens if or whenthere is a transgression by one of the two partiesto the treaty?
 Effects of a Peace Treaty
Participants in our next study (Beer, Sinclair,Healy, & Bourne, 1995; see also Bourne, Sin-clair, Healy, & Beer, 1996) were instructed toread through a test booklet, the
rst part of which contained items from the 16 PF, focusingon two bipolar dimensions, radicalism
conser-vativism and submissiveness
dominance. Next,participants read a background scenario de-scribing an ongoing situation of intransigentregional con
ict. In this case, the scenario wasa
ctionalized account of post
Gulf War activ-ities in the Middle East, as Israel and the Arabcountries attempted to work out a peace agree-ment. In our scenario, two neighboring coun-tries are described as being locked in a historicalstruggle of tension and hostility. Afslandia issupported by the United States, and Bagumba issupported by its
ctitious superpower ally, Cal-deron. After reading the background scenario,half of the participants read a simulated newsstory reporting the signing of a
historic peaceagreement between Afslandia and Bagumba atCamp David.
On the next page of the booklet,the following news
ash appeared:
Bagumba
sArtillery Opens Fire on Afslandia
s MilitaryOutpost Near the Border.
Participants were asked to respond to thenews
ash by choosing a reaction
that wouldbe best for the United States [Afslandia
s majorally] to support at this time in response to thisnews event.
Twelve illustrative reactions, rank ordered in terms of level of con
ict, were pre-sented below a scale of numbers, 1
12. For
Figure 1.
Mean con
ict level recommended by partici-pants in reaction to an enemy attack as a function of per-sonality dominance level and nature of priming vignette(data from Beer et al., 1987).191MILITARY CONFLICT AND TERRORISM

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