Research suggests nonviolence as a solution

By Catherine Ferris

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A world where war does not have to be an answer to conflict may seem like a fantasy, but according to a psychology research article, it can be achieved.

The article, which was written by Bernhard Leidner, Linda Tropp and Brian Lickel, was featured in a special “peace psychology” issue of American Psychologist.  Research found that psychology’s findings on the origins and nature of violence could contribute to the promotion of peace and nonviolence.

There are several psychological factors in intergroup violence such as uncertainty, group identity, emotions and moral beliefs. Political and social psychology researchers examine these factors to see how intergroup conflict affects views of the world and oneself.

Specific factors such as anger and fear, group identification, how strongly one identifies with his or her group and morality, makes violence seem as though “it is the right thing to do,” which contributes to violence and wars.

But anger is one emotion that also may be used to lessen violence. When there is an individual angry toward his or her own group, there may be a push to settle disputes with negotiation instead of violence. There were several occasions in which Americans felt angry toward their government, notably the Iraq War.

“The Iraq War propelled more anger in the American people who were against the war toward the government,” Leidner said. “These people want peace.”

One element that impacts peace is the balance between patriotism and nationalism. While being patriotic and having an appreciation for one’s country may be acceptable, Leidner pointed out that nationalism can be dangerous because it “leads one to believe his or her country is the best and can do no wrong.”

He believes “countries that don’t have high nationalism may not be as violent.” He said that the United States is a country where there is more nationalism than patriotism.

A display of U.S. nationalism occurred when President Barack Obama went on what many people called an “apology tour.” Beginning in 2009, he went to several countries to address past actions for which he felt the United States was responsible. These actions included hasty decisions, forcing its terms on other countries in the name of peace and not appreciating other countries that reach out for partnerships in times of common challenges.

Obama was faced with criticism for apologizing to these countries, which is the sense of nationalism that Leidner described as unsafe.

“If a country is a bit humble, there may be less violence,” he said.

He went on to say that a country should be open to thinking more critically of itself. He suggested polls and bringing other options to the table besides violence as ways to avoid war. He also said that “it is also the people’s responsibility” when looking for options to deal with conflicts.

The research also talks about political leaders who tried to promote a more peaceful society, including former South African President Nelson Mandela. Leidner also said former U.S. President George W. Bush was a figure who initially promoted peace.  Immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Bush originally wanted to protect Muslims, saying they had nothing to do with the attack. However, lines began to blur when the war in Iraq was approved.

Although Leidner believes that violence and war should be the absolute last resort, he also recognized the fact that there are times when negotiation does not work, and violence may be needed to settle certain disputes. He said Syria is a case in which violence may be needed to stop what is happening.

Leidner also brought up the fact that there are many non-violent groups that receive little to no attention. Leidner believes that groups that try to solve problems by negotiating rather than jumping right into war should have more attention.

Catherine Ferris can be reached at [email protected]