Breaking the Dynamics of Emotions and Fear in Conflict and Reconstruction

How can a neurological look at the dynamics of emotions in general and fear in particular help finding better strategies in conflict prevention and / or resolution?

Project Summary

The present research project wants to help develop new methods in conflict resolution and negotiation, in order to account for the fact that dynamics of confrontations between individuals and groups are often characterized by emotions such as fear. Oftentimes indeed, fear will paradoxically lead to aggressive or exclusionary behaviour. Such emotional aspects are difficult to overcome. The project wants to try to lift some of these difficulties by looking at how emotional aspects of conflicts could be superseded by using appropriate resolution and negotiation strategies.

The project also plans to use modeling tools drawing on both macro and agent based approaches, while emphasizing both rational and emotional aspects of conflicts. The project aims at filling some gaps in the existing research on conflict and cooperation by focusing with more attention on the interdisciplinary aspects of the research, and particularly the important inputs that behavioural neuro-science research can bring in order to better understand the issues at stake; and emphasizing the dynamic aspects of escalatory conflict and cooperative processes.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Breaking the Dynamics of Emotions and Fear in Conflict and Reconstruction

This paper is all about the construction of a new analytical framework to understand conflict and cooperation both at the international and at the domestic level with the aim of then finding mechanisms to reduce tensions and initiate conflict resolution schemes. The existing research literature on such analytical frameworks has so far been conducted a) mostly on standard social science disciplinary lines and has not incorporated the important work done on these questions by neuro-scientists and behavioral geneticists and b) is not really capable except in very specific instances to deal with the evolving dynamics of conflict and cooperation. Conflict over scarce resources (territory, mates, food) between members of the same species is a universal feature of evolution. Often conflict, especially armed conflict is supposed to be due to shows of force by two or more parties in order to appropriate or dominate resources. Force appears thus not to be the only decisive factor; perceived entitlement and powerful feelings of injustice thereby generated in the case of challenge, extended to group identity are also at the basis of conflict and aggression in humans. The relationship between environment and conflict, the role of emotions such as fear, and the absence of clear definition and enforcement of property rights within societies are also factors in the development of the conflict. Thus we have here developed an analytically based numerical model that aims to include finding on these topics by Neuroscience and to emphasize the role of emotions in conflict and cooperation dynamics. This model has been simulated without specific reference to a particular country with the result that economic conditions drive our system since in one case sustained growth produces stability and end of combats whereas deteriorating capital growth and GDP collapse lead to increased hostile coalition participation and more fighting. However, the mere trigger of economic conditions is insufficient to explain conflict escalation, which results from increased participation in mutually hostile coalitions and greater fighting propensity where emotions such as fear and resentment play their role. Finally, a detailed empirical analysis of the current Syrian conflict has been undertaken which shows the ability of the model to forecast actual historical developments. This study also indicates that worsening economic conditions are not the only triggering factors in civil conflict. Perceptions of opportunities due to a weakening of a regime’s authority also play a major role.

Executive Summary

Our research has allowed us to cover the four steps mentioned in our redimensioned proposal namely. Elaborate a generic dynamic numerical model of conflict and cooperative behavior. This model has been given characteristics to make it compatible with neuro-science findings by going beyond classical expected utility perspectives and accounting for emotions and strong behavioral challenges. The dynamics in conflict have been especially emphasized. More neuro-science experiments have been conducted in order to include answers to the following questions: What is the impact of stress and fear on aggression and conflict resolution? What is the impact of cooperative behavior related to both generalized and direct reciprocity on conflict resolution? What physiological mechanisms underlie the impact of stress on conflict dynamics and retaliation related behavior. Can the experience of cooperative behavior modulate behavior in an animal model of retaliation? Findings have been incorporated into the numerical model. Constitution of conflict database where the major difficulties encountered centered around the lack of conflict related time series for the number of casualties and combatants on both sides. 4. Finally the model has been simulated without specific reference to a particular country with the result that economic conditions drive the model since in one case sustained growth produces stability and end of combats whereas deteriorating capital growth and GDP collapse lead to increased hostile coalition participation and more fighting. However, the mere trigger of economic conditions is insufficient to explain conflict escalation, which results from increased participation in mutually hostile coalitions and greater fighting propensity where emotions such as fear and resentment play their role

Research Team

Urs Luterbacher
Coordinator
Graduate Institute Geneva

 

Carmen Sandi
Co-Coordinator
Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

Lars-Erik Cederman
Associated Member
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Status

completed

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