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Conflict and Socioemotional Deelopment

Conflict and Socioemotional Development scientific inquiry into intrapersonal conflict cannot
proceed in the absence of valid and reliable self-report
1. Conflict Defined
Conflict is a broad term, widely invoked in the
common vernacular and in the scientific literature to 1.2 Interpersonal Conflict
suggest a state of disagreement or opposition. The
term carries different connotations depending upon Interpersonal conflict may take place at the level of the
whether the experiencer is singular or plural. Intra- dyad or the group. Dyadic conflict is a social episode
personal conflict describes a state of emotional turmoil marked by overt behavioral opposition. The function
or intellectual dissent that occurs within an individual. of such conflicts and the manner in which they unfold
Interpersonal conflict describes a social interchange vary according to characteristics of the participants
that is marked by opposing goals and that involves and their relationship, the issue and context of the
two or more persons. The earliest English usage of disagreement, the tactics employed, and their conse-
each term dates to the fifteenth century; both have quences (Deutsch 1973). Group conflict refers to
common roots in the Latin conflictus, meaning throw negative or incompatible attitudes and behaviors
or strike together (Shantz and Hartup 1992). This directed by members or representatives of one group
shared etiology tends to muddy distinctions between toward those of another group. The nature and
these two distinct forms of conflict. significance of intergroup conflict differs according to
leadership styles and prevailing norms, member co-
hesion, resource availability, and the individual and
collective talents and experiences of each group (Sherif
1.1 Intrapersonal Conflict et al. 1961).
Intrapersonal conflict encompasses two broad Interpersonal conflict is a quantifiable, ofttimes
domains. At the emotional level, conflict reflects public event. It consists of a sequence of easily
competing impulses or desires. Freud (1965) attributed recognized and well-defined components including the
these tendencies to contradictory aggressive and sexual initial opposition, and the tactics, resolution, and
proclivities with origins in the id (the unregulated outcome. That said, empirical studies of dyadic and
physical self) and to irreconcilable differences between group conflict suffer from inconsistent operational
these selfish urges and constraints imposed by the definitions. The conflict measures employed differ in
superego (the social mores conveyed by family and terms of whether they assess unilateral or mutual
culture). At the cognitive level, conflict reflects dis- oppositions, and in terms of whether the frequency of
sonance produced by incongruent facts, opinions, or an event is distinguished from its affective intensity
modes of thought. Piaget (1985) attributed these (Laursen and Collins 1994). Distinct patterns of
tendencies to equilibration, the innate tension between interpersonal conflict emerge when considering recip-
a preference for stability and a drive to master the rocated as opposed to unreciprocated disagreements
environment. Assimilation encourages stability by and when angry disputes are examined apart from
incorporating new information into existing mental the mundane. Early work on interpersonal conflict fo-
schema. Should this prove insufficient for mastering cused on groups and dyads in experimenter-contrived
the environment, accommodation is required to alter conditions designed to elicit disagreements. Concerns
mental schema in a manner consistent with the about the ethical treatment of participants and a lack
information available. of generalizability prompted improvements in eco-
Intrapersonal conflict is by definition a private logical validity; unobtrusive observations in natural
experience. It cannot be observed and it has no reliable settings have been integrated with running assess-
metric. Early scientific psychologists relied on in- ments of psychophysiological states and moment-by-
trospection to glean insight into thoughts, a practice moment accounts of participant cognitions and affect
modified and popularized by psychodynamic psycho- (Gottman 1994). The utility of self-reports increased
logists to probe unconscious emotional states. Sub- once scholars realized that participant reports of
jective experience as a topic of study fell out of favor conflict differ not only from one another but also from
with the behavioral revolution. Reaction times, physi- observer reports, suggesting that what was once
ological cues, and projective responses were employed considered measurement error may in fact represent
as proxies for inner conflict, but poor reliability and important individual differences in how conflict is
the absence of face validity undermined these efforts. perceived and experienced.
With the cognitive (counter)revolution, new intro-
spective methods gained legitimacy as advances in
measurement and instrumentation were applied to 2. The Role of Conflict in Deelopment
mental processes. Scholars began to focus on the
diverse experiences of different cultural and ethnic Conflict is inherent in growth, and human devel-
groups, and in so doing it became apparent that opment cannot proceed without conflict. Wisdom,

Conflict and Socioemotional Deelopment

emotional maturity, and social skills may be tied to a ways merit mention. First, conflict may prompt
series of developmentally defined tasks and the con- changes in self-understanding and self-evaluation.
flicts specific to each. Scholars agree that intrapersonal Critical disagreements force participants to re-
and interpersonal conflict each shape developmental evaluate goals and tactics, offering opportunities to
trajectories, but there is little consensus as to the exact hone social perspective taking and interpersonal ne-
mode of transmission. The developmental effects of gotiation skills (Selman 1980). Second, conflict helps
conflict appear to be limited to specific domains of to determine patterns of social interaction in close re-
influence circumscribed by individual timetables and lationships that may impact developmental outcomes.
characteristics of the disagreement such as the issue Coercive exchanges tend to be self-perpetuating and,
and participants. once started, they interfere with the dividends that
normally accrue from positive affiliations (Patterson
1982). Third, conflict may define and alter expectations
about individuals and relationships. In some cases,
2.1 Intrapersonal Conflict and Deelopment
roles and responsibilities are negotiated directly, but in
Intrapersonal conflict is instrumental to the attain- other cases, behavior is evaluated for cues as to
ment of several important milestones in socio- whether current expectations are consistent with the
emotional development. First, conflict may prompt demands of the situation and the maturity of the
changes in internal schema and mental structures. participants (Hinde 1997).
Accommodation (Piaget 1985) exemplifies this pro- There is considerable support for the premise
cess: A child confronted with a difficult moral dilemma that the developmental significance of conflict depends
may be forced to disregard views previously held dear on the relationship in which it arises (Laursen
in order to objectively consider different perspectives and Collins 1994). Three relationship properties are
and reach a fair solution. Alternatively, conflict may germane: closeness, permanence, and power. Dis-
give rise to changes in perceptions and priorities. agreements in close relationships have the potential to
Cognitive dissonance (Festinger 1957) typifies this alter developmental trajectories profoundly; few dis-
mechanism: A child forced to select a single partner agreements in other relationships have such effects.
for an outing may find that, in so choosing, the esteem Disagreements in voluntary relationships are more apt
of one friend has been enhanced at the expense of to bring about individual change than those in
others. Finally, conflict may alter affect and impulse obligatory relationships; participants in the former
control. A child who opts to delay gratification in the must behave in a manner that affords mutually
hopes of improved rewards will learn to succeed by satisfactory outcomes if the affiliation is to continue,
cultivating strategies that minimize emotional arousal whereas participants in the latter worry little about the
and divert attention from proximate stimuli. dangers of relationship dissolution. Disagreements in
Theory concerning the ontogenetic significance of horizontal or mutual relationships provide especially
intrapersonal conflict has outpaced research on the fertile ground for improved social skills because when
topic. There is less research on emotional development power is shared, negotiation is necessary for an
than on cognitive and social–cognitive development, amicable resolution; in vertical or unilateral re-
but the available evidence supports the assertion that lationships, resolutions are more often the product
the influence of intrapersonal conflict is defined by the of power differentials than of negotiation abilities.
topic of disagreement and the cognitive or affective Thesevariationsnotwithstanding,developmentalshifts
domain invoked. Furthermore, effects are qualified by in conflict man agement may be identified such
individual timetables: Development mediates the in- that the practice of coercion is gradually replaced
fluence of conflict. The likelihood that some devel- across childhood and adolescence by negotiation and
opmental periods are more susceptible to alterations withdrawal.
than others leads to the provocative suggestion that
intrapersonal conflict is neither a necessary nor suffi-
cient condition for development but rather a factor 3. Conclusion: the Paradoxical Influence of
that may, at certain times, facilitate advances in the Conflict
specific emotional or cognitive arena in which it arises
(Shantz and Hartup 1992). Conflict is often unpleasant and aversive. Given the
option, most people would choose to avoid it. For this
reason, it is commonly assumed that conflict hinders
development. This assumption has been challenged on
2.2 Interpersonal Conflict and Deelopment
the grounds that linear models overlook the beneficent
Social skills and social development are entwined with role that conflict plays in maturation. A curvilinear
interpersonal conflict. Disagreements, especially those model of influence captures this alternative perspec-
in close relationships, are one of the primary means tive: moderate conflict provides experience necessary
whereby individuals define themselves and delimit for optimal socioemotional development, whereas too
their interactions with others. Three influence path- little conflict limits the potential for growth and too

Conflict and War, Archaeology of

much conflict overwhelms mechanisms for coping Shantz C U, Hartup W W 1992 Conflict in Child and Adolescent
with it. Deelopment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK
Sherif M, Harvey O J, White F J, Hood W R, Sherif C W 1961
Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: the Robbers’ Cae
Experiment. University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
3.1 Future Directions B. Laursen
Most research on the significance of interpersonal
conflict has focused on its potential for adverse Copyright # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd.
consequences. Few studies have addressed the possi- All rights reserved.
bility that conflict promotes socioemotional devel-
opment. Strong evidence supports the assertion that
children who experience high rates of angry conflict Conflict and War, Archaeology of
suffer from low self-esteem, poor social skills, inter-
personal rejection, and adjustment problems. Yet the Archaeology is the study of patterns of effects;
nature of this research is such that it is impossible to repetitions of human behavior that leave an enduring
determine whether maladaptation is the cause or the mark on the physical world. War, the armed conflict
consequence of interpersonal conflict. Neither can it between social units, is such a pattern and leaves very
be determined whether there are sensitive periods enduring effects. Such effects include the remains of
during which conflict exerts a particularly strong victims of homicide and warfare, fortifications,
influence on development, although a few studies specialized weapons, destroyed settlements, and de-
suggest that conflict mediates difficult transitions pictions of combat. Ancient violent conflicts also
through precocious puberty, marital reconfiguration, had important consequences, correlates, and causes
and school entry. Of particular importance to this field involving human ecology, the distribution of settle-
of inquiry is research that makes a full and nuanced ments, production and exchange, social organization,
account of the dynamic interplay between conflict and ideology, and symbolism.
developmental outcomes. Studies of change over time The definitions of ‘war’ used by social scientists and
are needed to specify the paradoxical influence of historians can be grouped into two extreme categories:
conflict on concurrent individual adjustment and on broad and narrow. Broad definitions, like that used in
long-term developmental trajectories. the introductory paragraph, classify violent and lethal
conflicts between all social or political units as war.
See also: Adulthood: Emotional Development; Con- Broad definitions allow the survey and analysis of the
flict\Consensus; Infancy and Childhood: Emotional widest range of deadly conflicts between human
Development; Social Learning, Cognition, and groups. They permit anthropologists studying pre-
Personality Development historic and recent small-scale societies to contribute
to scholarly and popular debates about warfare.
Narrow definitions restrict the term ‘war’ just to
societies organized as states. States being political
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International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences ISBN: 0-08-043076-7