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Conflict and Conflict Resolution, Social Psychology of,

Conflict and Conflict Resolution, Social Psychology of,



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Published by Jacobin Parcelle
Encyclopedia Series OF Conflict, War, and Peace : Social Psychology of Conflict and Conflict Resolution
Encyclopedia Series OF Conflict, War, and Peace : Social Psychology of Conflict and Conflict Resolution

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Published by: Jacobin Parcelle on Feb 17, 2009
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Rudas T, Clogg C C, Lindsay B G 1994 A new index of fit basedon mixture methods for the analysis of contingency tables.
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Conflict and Conflict Resolution, SocialPsychology of 
The term ‘conflict’ has two broad meanings:
, which refers to clashing actions by two ormore parties, as in a fist fight or war, and
,whichreferstoperceiveddivergenceofinterestor annoyance attributed to another party. Subjectiveconflict is often a source of overt conflict, as whenannoyance about a neighbor’s loud music leads to ashouting match. But subjective conflict can produceother outcomes as well, including use of the followingfour basic strategies: contending, problem solving,yielding, and inaction. Only one of these, contending,leads to overt conflict.Conflict occurs at all levels of society, from theinterpersonal to the international, and hence is of interest to most branches of the social and behavioralsciences. Conflict has attracted the attention of re-searchers because of its large costs and benefits. Costsare incurred when conflict escalates to the point of harming relationships, destroying property, or injur-ing people. Benefits accrue because conflict presidesover most significant social change; contributes tosolidarity within conflicting groups; and in its milderforms, often leads to the reconciliation of legitimateinterests, thus strengthening relationships and safe-guarding the peace.
1. Sources of Conflict
The modern socialpsychology of conflict began with ademonstration field experiment by Sherif (1966).Sherifranseveralsummercampsinwhichheproducedovert conflict between two cabins of preadolescentboys and then resolved this conflict. Conflict wasproduced by means of the two sources of subjectiveconflict mentioned above: divergence of interest (forexample, competitive games) and annoyance attri-buted to the other group (for example, the counselorsvandalized onecabins’campgrounds and blamed it onthe other cabin).Whatconditionsproducedivergenceofinterestandannoyance from others? One answer is scarce re-sources. A second is role differentiation that producesdisparate values, as between buyer and seller, parentand child, sales and production. A third is anycondition that causes aspirations to rise rapidly (suchas a sudden improvement in outcomes) or to becomeinconsistent with those of another party (such asambiguity about which party is more powerful). Afourth is any source of distrust, because distrust tendsto block cooperation and produce defensive behavior,which often annoys or frightens the other party.When groups rather than individuals are involved,additional mechanisms encourage conflict. Groupsare less trusted than individuals. Also, a perceptionthat one’s group is deprived relative to a reasonablestandard (
 fraternalistic depri 
) has been shownto be a major source of political conflict. Arguing thatSherif’s ‘realistic conflict theory’ is too narrow, Tajfel(1978) proposes that intergroup conflict often arisesbecause group members compete with other groups inan effort to feel good about their social identity andhence about themselves. Another unique aspect of groups is the role of leadership. Leaders and would-beleaders often dramatize frustration at the hands of other groups, exacerbating conflicts while strength-ening their position with their constituents.
2. Strategic Choice in Conflict
Rubin et al. (1994) have put forward a
dual concernmodel 
of the psychological states that affect choice2531
Conflict and Conflict Resolution, Social Psychology of 
Yielding ProblemsolvingContendingInaction
   C  o  n  c  e  r  n  a   b  o  u   t  o   t   h  e  r   ’  s  o  u   t  c  o  m  e  s
Concern about own outcomes
Figure 1
The dual concern model (after Pruitt and Carnevale1993, p. 105)
among the four basic strategies mentioned earlier.Shown in Fig. 1, this model postulates two kinds of concern: concern about own outcomes (‘self-concern’)and concern about the other party’s outcomes (‘other-concern’), each ranging from weak to strong. Peoplewith strong self-concern have high, inflexible aspir-ations and are resistant to concession making. Peoplewith strong other-concern place importance on theotherparty’sinterests.Self-concernandother-concernare independent dimensions rather than opposite endsof a continuum. Beginning in the upper left-handquadrant of Fig. 1, low self-concern coupled with highother-concernisassumedtoproduceastrongaltruisticorientation, which encourages yielding. High self-concerncombined withhigh other-concernis assumedto produce a strong cooperative orientation, whichencourages problem solving. High self-concern com-bined with low other-concern is assumed to produce astrong individualistic orientation, which leads to theuse of contentious tactics. Low self-concern coupledwith low other-concern is assumed to produce inac-tion, an absence of efforts to achieve anything.The dual concern model, though not a compre-hensive theory of strategic choice, fits a lot of datafrom psychometric and experimental research. Thepsychometric tradition, which employs factor analysisand multidimensional scaling, views strategic prefer-ences as individual differences in ‘conflict style.’ Theexperimental tradition, which involves studies of negotiation behavior, examines conditions that affectthe likelihood of choosing each strategy. These studieshave identified several sources of self-concern, in-cluding having high aspirations or fallback positions,being an accountable representative, and negativelyframing the issues so that concessions are interpretedas loss rather than failure to gain. Sources of other-concern include having a close relationship with ordependence on the other party, and being in a positivemood.Otherresearchsuggeststhatcontentioustacticsare more likely to be adopted the greater the an-noyance or perceived divergence of interest, the moredehumanized the target, and the more deindividuatedthe actor or target.When increasingly harsh contentious tactics areusedinaconflict,
issaidtooccur.Escalationusually results from a conflict spiral in which eachparty is reacting to the other party’s most recentactions. However, some escalation consists of oneparty’sreactionstopersistentannoyancefromanotherparty (Pruitt 1998). Escalation is often accompaniedby other changes: issues proliferate, negative attitudesand partisan perceptions develop, distrust sets in,goalschangefromdoingwellforoneselftohurtingtheother party, and broader communities polarize intohostile camps (Rubin et al. 1994). If groups areinvolved, ingroup solidarity usually increases andmilitant leaders often become more prominent. Thesechanges tend to outlive the conflict in which they aregenerated, hurting the broader relationship betweenthe parties and making the next conflict episode morelikely to escalate (Coleman 1957).
3. Conditions that Encourage Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution refers to any reduction in theseverity of conflict or mitigation of its underlyingcauses. It may entail de-escalation of an overt struggleor reconciliation (in whole or in part) of divergentinterests.Social psychologists have long been interested inthe role of 
social contact
in theresolution of conflict. Research has shown that theseprocedures help to alleviate mild conflict but may beworse than useless in severe conflict, allowing argu-ments and fights to develop (Deutsch 1973). Sherif (1966) found that a better way to reverse escalation inhis camps was to get the boys to cooperate on
(i.e., shared)
. The value of thistechnique has been confirmed in other settings.Zartman (1997), an international relations scholarwho takes a psychological approach, has argued thatsevere conflict is most likely to be resolved when bothsides become motivated to escape the conflict, aconditionhecalls
.Hefindsthatsuperordinategoals (‘mutually enticing opportunities’) seldomunderlie ripeness in international conflict and civilwar.Rather,ripenessisusuallyproducedbya
mutuallyhurting stalemate
, in which the parties find that theyare enduring unacceptable costs in a struggle theycannot win, sometimes augmented by the perceptionof an
impending catastrophe
if the conflict continues.It can be argued that severe conflicts of the kinddiscussed by Zartman will only move toward res-olution if ripeness is supplemented by
aboutthe success of conciliatory actions. Optimism derivesfrom two sources:
working trust
, a belief that the other2532
Conflict and Conflict Resolution, Social Psychology of 
side is also motivated to resolve the conflict, and
,aperceptionthatamutuallyacceptable agreement is actually possible.Optimism can develop in a number of ways.Sometimes one of the parties takes
unilateral con
ciliatory initiati 
that encourage the other party tobecome more trusting. Such initiatives are especiallyeffective when they are noticeable and unexpected, arefully explained, and cannot be construed as a trick orsign of weakness (Rubin et al. 1994). In severeconflicts, optimism more commonly arises out of intervention by
. Sometimes the psycho-logical and social distance between adversaries is sogreat that a chain of two or more intermediaries isnecessary to bridge the gap.
4. Negotiation
Conflict resolution can begin in a number of ways, butto be successful, it usually must culminate in
. In other words, the parties must eventually tryto work out their differences.Researchonnegotiationhasbeenthecenterpieceof the social psychological approach to conflict for manyyears. Most of it is done in the laboratory withexperimental games, but case studies and question-naires are also sometimes used. At one time, researchon negotiation was mostly performed in departmentsof psychology, but today, the main locus of thisresearch is in management schools, where investiga-tors who are basically social psychologists conductdozens of studies each year. Early experimental re-search dealt with negotiation about a single issue (e.g.,a price or a wage rate), where one party’s gain is theother’s loss. But current research usually looks atmore complex settings that have
e potential 
,in the sense that all parties can do well if they engagein problem solving. An important generalization,which applies to both kinds of settings, is that higherdemands and slower concessions make it harder toreach agreement but, if agreement is reached, producemore favorable outcomes. Summaries of the psycho-logical research on negotiation can be found inBazerman et al. (2000) and Pruitt and Carnevale(1993).
5. Third Party Inter
When conflict threatens to escalate and negotiation isineffective, third parties often intervene. Five inter-vention procedures will be reviewed here: mediation,arbitration, relationship therapy, peacekeeping, andthe design of conflict management systems.In
, a third party assists the disputantswith their negotiation. (Mediation includes the ac-tivities of intermediaries, a topic discussed earlier.)Among the most important mediator tactics arebuilding rapport with the disputants, facilitating com-munication, questioning unrealistic aspirations, re-framing the issues, encouraging disputant creativity,and thinking up new solutions if the disputants fail todo so. Several studies support a broad generalization,that vigorous mediator intervention tends to beeffectivewhenthepartiesarehostiletowardeachotheror lack the motivation to escape their conflict but iscounterproductive when the opposite is true (Rubin etal. 1994). Mediators are especially likely to succeedwhen the parties are highly motivated to resolve theconflict, resource shortages are not severe, and theissues do not involve general principles. Mediatorneutrality usually contributes to the success of me-diation but is not as essential, as formerly believed.Indeed, success is sometimes achieved because themediatoris closertotheside thatmust makethelargerconcessions (Kressel et al. 1989).In
, the third party renders a judgmentabout the proper solution to the conflict. Severalstudies have examined the impact of 
, aprocedure in which binding arbitration occurs if agreementis notreached inmediation.Thisprocedureusually motivates the disputants to try harder to solvetheir dispute during themediation phase, because theyfear loss of control over their outcomes if arbitrationoccurs (Kressel et al. 1989).When disputants have a distressed relationship,third parties sometimes engage in
relationship therapy
(Pruitt 1998). Relationship therapy, which has beenpioneeredbymaritaltherapists,usuallyinvolvesprob-lem solving training, in which the parties are taughtskills of listening, clear communication, avoidingblame, analyzing needs, and brainstorming for solu-tions. The therapist may also help the disputantsidentify repetitive patterns of interaction that arecontributing to the conflict. Kelman (1992) has de-veloped
problem sol 
ing workshops
, a form of re-lationship therapy for intergroup and internationalconflict.Intheseworkshops,selectedmembersofbothgroups meet for several days to analyze the conflict.When conflicts become violent or threaten to do so,third party intervention may take the form of 
. Examples include separating fighting chil-dren, arresting abusive spouses, and United Nationsoperations within ethnically divided countries. Fisherand Keashly (Fisher 1990) have proposed a normativemodel which recommends that third parties: (a) usepeace keeping in violent conflicts, (b) provide incen-tives to encourage ripeness in heavily escalated butnonviolent conflicts, (c) offer relationship therapy(they call it ‘consultation’) in moderately escalatedconflicts, and (d) mediate mildly escalated conflicts.This model assumes that each of these strategiesproduces the conditions necessary for the success of the next strategy in the list.A final third-party role is the design of 
conflictmanagement systems
for large social entities such as2533
Conflict and Conflict Resolution, Social Psychology of 

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