Is war and violent conflict an inevitable component of human nature? Political psychologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst argue that it isn't, having written a special new piece on "peace psychology" that urges people to overturn the widespread belief.
Published in the newest issue of American Psychologist, the authors argue that if social research psychology only focuses on how to "soften" violent conflict around the world and its negative consequences, "it would fall far short of its potential and value for society."
"In summarizing psychological perspectives on the conditions and motivations that underlie violent conflict, we find that psychology's contributions can extend beyond understanding the origins and nature of violence to promote nonviolence and peace," co-author Linda Tropp said in a university press release. "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."
The researchers point out that pacifist political leaders are crucial in leading their countries during crisis and conflicts, providing Nelson Mandela as an example of 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.'"
However, the the psychologists acknowledge that many factors such as intergroup tension, emotions, uncertainty, and conflicting moral beliefs trigger violent conflict, as they "persist because they often give people ways to address psychological needs, for identity, safety, security and power."
Nevertheless, lead author Bernhard Leidner and his colleagues of of UMass Amherst's Psychology of Peace and Violence program conclude that ways of mitigating "negative consequences of war and violence is valuable" and essential in the efforts of decreasing violence and promoting peace, especially when it comes to applying "realistic insights" made through research to real-world situations.
"It is our contention that psychology can and should be applied to promote peace, not war," they wrote.