| The Interweaving Threads
of Peace Psychology
by Rachel M. MacNair
(books) (speaking and teaching)
(glossary for peace psychology)
Peace psychology can be defined as "the study of mental processes that lead to violence, that prevent
violence, and that facilitate nonviolence as well as promoting fairness, respect, and dignity for all, for the purpose of
making violence a less likely occurrence and helping to heal its psychological effects" (MacNair, 2003). Another
definition is that "peace psychology seeks to develop theories and practices aimed at the prevention and mitigation
of direct and structural violence. Framed positively, peace psychology promotes the nonviolent management of
conflict and the pursuit of social justice, what we refer to as peacemaking and peacebuilding, respectively" (Christie,
Wagner, & Winter, 2000). Though peace psychology has links within all branches of psychology, there are
especially strong links to social psychology, political psychology, community psychology, and positive psychology.
Peace psychologists have developed a number of themes over the years. The psychological causes of war
and other forms of violence is one such theme, as well as the psychological consequences. Along with these are
the causes and consequences of behavior intended to counter violence, commonly referred to as nonviolence or
nonviolent action. Other remedies to violent behavior include peace education and conflict resolution. In early
years, focus was on international affairs. Through time those interested in peace psychology have more commonly
thought that other forms of violence are precursors to war, share with war many of the same causes and
consequences, and are threats to peace even in the absence of outright war. These include domestic violence,
hate crimes, the death penalty, abuses of medicine, and institutional arrangements which foster poverty or
Most historians of psychology trace the founding of modern psychology to a specific event, Wilhelm Wundt's
establishing the first experimental laboratory in 1879. Yet psychology has philosophical roots going back to ancient
times. In the same way, historians of peace psychology can cite the essay of William James, The Moral Equivalent
of War, as an event that launched the sub-discipline of peace psychology. Yet peace psychology builds on long-
standing musings about the mental processes and behavior of war and peace.
In ancient Judah and Israel, several prophets proposed (to put it in psychological terms) that the cause of war was
continued adherence to unhealthy social norms which included exploitation of the poor, greed, lying, and worship of
multiple gods that approved such behavior. They advocated that establishment of peace required adherence to
standards of behavior that were universal and involved justice, care for the poor and attention to only one divine
In ancient India, Siddartha Gotama Buddha (c. 563-c. 483 BC) proposed that suffering was caused by desires,
and peace would be found through the discipline of detachment. He offered several principles, including
compassion and nonviolence, as essential to the individual's spiritual well-being. In the 200s BC, a war-prone king
named Ashoka converted to the Buddhist point of view with an immediate effect of establishing a much more
peaceful kingdom in his portion of India.
In ancient China, Confucius (c. 551- c. 471 BC) proposed that war came from disharmony and would be best
remedied when individuals conform to an ideal harmonious and hierarchical social order. By contrast, Lao Tse (c.
604 - c. 531 BC) offered the Tao Te Ching, which suggested individuals should ignore social dictates and seek to
be in tune with the patterns of the universe involving balance, harmony, and compassion.
The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes (c. 447 - c. 380 BC) suggested in his play Lysistrata that the
psychology of war was that of the arrogance of men and their lust for political power. The play was a comedy in
which the women of the opposing sides, lacking the same arrogance, coordinated a sex strike to stop the fighting.
First-century Middle Eastern Christian writer James, one of three leaders in the Jerusalem Church, author of an
epistle, and by tradition the brother of Jesus, proposed as a psychological cause of war that people had excessive
desires for material wealth or prestige that they could not get, and that people were bent on murder when envious
and wanting something they cannot have (James 4:1-2). In the same era, people circulated Gospels and letters for
the new movement which recommended loving one's enemies, character development, charity works, spiritual
disciplines, human equality and concern for the poor, acceptance of martyrdom if necessary, and other practices
which relate to establishing peace.
More recently, seventeenth-century Czech education reformer Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670) proposed that
the means to peace is education which is international and universal. Beginning in 1628, he published a series of
books on educating for understanding between countries of different religions, languages, and ways of life. He
argued that all should be educated with universally-shared knowledge regardless of gender or social class. He was
invited to several European countries to help reform schools, and earned the title "Teacher of Nations."
Early nineteenth-century English Quaker writer Jonathan Dymond (1796-1828) wrote a treatise on the causes
and effects of war, collecting and articulating in a coherent framework the ideas of many Quakers and other
pacifists of the time (Dymond, 1824). He used philosophical reasoning that foreshadows many current
psychological concepts. Quotations from his work could be used to illustrate, among other things, the psychological
dynamics of arms races, the effect of war on violent behavior of a community after it is over, the pressures of
destructive obedience to authority, habits and associations, the sequential steps or "slippery slope," the dynamics
of noncooperation, stress causing over-simplified thinking in policy-makers, and even the use of war as a diversion
from scandal as portrayed more recently in the Hollywood movie Wag the Dog (Levinson, 1998). Peace
psychologists developed each of these themes throughout the twentieth century with psychological research.
In 1905, American writer Mark Twain wrote the short story called "The War Prayer." This is still used as a
classic literary description of the phenomenon of "war hysteria," a colloquial term for a state of mind which is
enthusiastic about war, ignores its predictable effects, oversimplifies both the villainy of the enemy and the issues
involved in the dispute, and uses reasoning starkly different from everyday life, making it puzzling to those not
caught up in its emotion. Later psychologists like William James (1910) and Lawrence LeShan (1992) tried to define
further and explain the phenomenon. Mark Twain also proposed that greed was a motivation toward war in his
parody of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." (Both Twain works can be found in Anderson, 1972).
As previously mentioned, William James wrote the classic essay The Moral Equivalent of War in 1910. James
was of course prominent in establishing the field of psychology and wrote what has become a classic introductory
textbook, The Principles of Psychology (1890) which had widespread use for decades. With this essay, James also
set the stage for the sub-discipline of peace psychology, though the term was not yet current. The essay argues
that the aspects of war that make it psychologically appealing should be replaced by nonviolent alternatives that
achieve the same appeal. James identified six such aspects. One was pride in one's self coming from belonging to
and helping a greater group. This gives a sense of vitality as part of a vast undertaking. The second was that war
can give meaning and purpose to an otherwise boring life. Thirdly, it can allow for projection of self-doubts or self-
hatred onto someone else. Anxieties are re-directed to a more comfortable target. Fourth, group cohesion improves
when faced with an external threat. Arguments stop when there is a common enemy. When the war is over, quarrels
return. Many remember fondly the sense of unity. Fifth, some admirable virtues are involved. These include
discipline, courage, and self-sacrifice for the greater good. People like to think of themselves as having and
demonstrating such qualities. Finally, the anxiety of uncertainty vanishes when war hysteria arrives. Later peace
psychologists have further developed each of these concepts.
The development of the nonviolent alternatives has also continued throughout the twentieth century. Vast
grassroots movements provided the experience necessary for more sophisticated theoretical developments. In fact,
if the current population of all the countries which were touched by major nonviolent movements in the twentieth
century were added together, the figure would be almost three billion people, or 64% of humanity (Wink, 1998, pp.
116-117), providing a rich base for studies that are still on-going.
Meanwhile, early luminaries of psychology had their own activities relating to peace behavior. For example,
Ivan Pavlov, famous for experiments on conditioned responses, in 1930 promoted a petition arguing "that the
present armament policies do not furnish any safety to the peoples of the world and in fact, lead all nations to
economic disaster. That this policy makes a new war inevitable. That in the future every war will be a war of
extermination. That the declaration of peace in behalf of governments remain futile as long as these governments
keep on delaying disarmament, which should be the logical sequel to renouncing war" (Nathan & Norden. 1968, p.
Also being developed in this time period was the idea that a major part of establishing peace required
education for peace. As early as 1912, Maria Montessori starting publishing a series of books in various languages
on her teaching method. She had set up a school in a slum in Italy in 1907 to help students prosper in poverty. She
argued that children who are not trained to follow authoritarian teachers are less likely to follow rulers urging them
to war. Her method of teaching involved offering a dynamic curriculum from which students choose what to study.
The Montessori teaching method became more developed and popular throughout the next decades.
Peace education efforts saw a surge of growth at the beginning of the twentieth century, with Europeans and
Americans forming peace societies and warning against the saber rattling that led to World War I. In 1912, the
School Peace League had chapters in nearly every state of the United States. Between the world wars, many
teachers thought schools had encouraged war by indoctrinating children in nationalism. They taught international
studies so students would be more understanding of different cultures (Scanlon, 1959).
Further thinking on the psychological causes of war came in 1927 from William McDougall, in a book called
Janus: The Conquest of War. McDougall had served in a British hospital during World War I and was thereby
motivated to study peace strategies. Among major causes of war he listed the build-up of weapons which made
others fear armed aggression, and the spirit of nationality. He thought minor causes of war included the weapons
manufacturers, certain business groups and politicians, and humanity's natural pugnacity. For war prevention, he
suggested the principle of having an international court of justice backed up by an international police force and a
small international air force, strategically stationed.
In further work on the psychology of war, in a 1931 book, McDougall argued that technology will not lead to
security. He actually predicted the coming of nuclear weapons: "if some physicist were to realize the brightest dream
of this kind and teach us to unlock the energy within the atom, the whole race . . . would live under the threat of
sudden destruction, through the malevolence of some cynic, the inadvertence of some optimist, or the benevolence
of some pessimist" (p. 44-45).
Since conflicts are commonly precursors to war and to other forms of communal violence, the study of
nonviolent means to resolve conflicts has always been a major thread of peace psychology. In 1924, social
psychologist Mary Parker Follet published Creative Experience, a book in which she pioneered the concept of
resolving conflicts by integrating instead of balancing interests. She proposed that this is a preferable alternative to
either domination or compromise, in that outcomes are designed to address the roots of the conflict. It is an interest-
based approach that leads to win-win solutions rather than an insistence that one side must lose or that both sides
must lose at least partly. When interests are considered rather than positions, positions can change so that all
interests can be better accommodated. This allows for some creativity in addressing those interests. Follet
suggested that while it is best for us to avoid certain conflicts, others result from diversity. Conflicts resulting from
diversity can lead to creative improvements. Peace psychologists still generally agree that we need not eliminate
conflicts, but rather find ways to have them serve creative rather than destructive ends.
Follet made it clear in the introduction to her book that her training was in psychology, and the beginning
chapters developed psychological concepts. She was also interested in an interdisciplinary approach and did have
experts in other fields help her develop her thesis. Her primary application is to conflicts in law, though she uses the
concepts across various kinds of conflicts. Interestingly, one of the minor applications to conflict in her book had a
major impact in subsequent years: those who study business management found her ideas influential. Much of the
conflict resolution work has been applied in the area of business negotiations, experience which later proved helpful
in international diplomacy.
The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) was established in 1936, and received
divisional status in the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1937 with Goodwin Watson as its first
president. SPPSI provided support for applied psychology in areas such as the study of war, racial prejudice, and
industrial conflict. It is still a strong organization today. Throughout the decades since, it has been a major
gathering place for peace psychologists, though Division 48 of APA was established in 1988 to be more exclusively
focused on peace psychology. (For more extensive histories of SPSSI, see Capshew, 1996; Finison, 1979; Harris,
Unger, & Stagner, 1986; Harris & Nicholson, 1998; Herman, 1995; Jacobs, 1989; Kimmel, 1997; Krech &
Cartwright, 1956; Levinger, 1986.)
World War II naturally brought about much more intense interest in the subject of war and peace. In 1944, while
the war was still raging, conversations among 25 psychologists led to the issuance of a statement: "Human Nature
and Peace: A Statement by Psychologists." With funding from SPSSI, it was mailed to all 3,803 members of APA. Of
the 50% who responded, 99% agreed with the statement. On April 5, 1945, the Statement was released to the
press and public officials with 2,038 signatures. The statement (Murphy, 1945) had ten principles, which are
1. War can be avoided, and is not inevitable.
2. The coming generation (children) should be a focus of attention.
3. Group hatreds can be controlled through education and experience.
4. All branches of the human family – all races – need to be allowed equal participation in collective security.
5. Peoples must participate in planning their own destiny.
6. Rewards and punishments in defeated peoples should be clear and consistent.
7. Relief and rehabilitation done well can increase self-respect and self-reliance; done poorly, dollar imperialism
can bring resentment.
8. The root desires of common people are the safest guide for framing peace.
9. The trend of human relationships is toward ever wider units of collective security.
10. Commitments now may prevent post-war apathy.
Post-World War II
In the post-war years, there was a flurry of writings internationally on applying psychology to prevention of war
(Murphy, 1945; Broser, 1947; Ibrahim, 1949; Read, 1949; Cantril, 1950; Hugenholtz, 1950; van der Horst, 1950;
Pear, 1950; Kisker, 1951; Kubo, 1952). Also from 1945 to 1949, committees and task forces were formed in SPSSI,
APA, and the Social Science Research Council to deal with the new aspect of war that had never existed before: a
world order with atomic weapons of mass destruction. The committees were short-lived and lacked resources, but
they did begin a concept of a role for psychology in war and peace issues. (A detailed account can be found in
As part of this post-war activity, SPSSI issued a report authored by David Krech (1946) which opens: "Atomic
energy has become a psychological problem." The report offered a 6-point program, and was published in the
American Psychologist. Features of it received widespread media attention and positive response. A summary of
the 6 points: (a) the real danger of the atomic bomb should be made clear to all; (b) serious and intelligent action is
needed for international friendship; (c) international control of atomic energy must be established; (d) we must stop
making atomic bombs immediately; (e) civilian control of atomic energy must be established right away; (f) the
possible benefits of atomic energy should be developed. Later social activists would be far more skeptical of
nuclear energy, as they formed an anti-nuclear energy movement which was especially strong in the 1970s and
1980s. This movement was, however, based on further information about nuclear hazards which was unavailable in
As further illustration of common thinking among those psychologists interested in studying peace, in 1950
Hadley Cantril published an edited volume, Tensions That Cause Wars. It included a "Common Statement" signed
by eight psychologists, each one of which also contributed a chapter to the volume (Gordon W. Allport, Gilberto
Freyre, Georges Gurvitch, Max Horkheimer, Arne Naess, John Rickman, Harry Stack Sullivan, and Alexander
Szalai). The twelve points are quickly summarized here to give an understanding of the thinking of the time. Wars
are not inevitable consequences of human nature. The problem of peace is to keep group tensions and
aggressions manageable and aimed toward the constructive. To avoid aggression, we must maximize social justice
in production and resources, because economic inequalities and frustrations create tensions, leading to seeing
others as a menace and accepting "false images and oversimplified solutions" and scapegoating. Wars are
fostered by nationalistic symbols, hindering free movement of thought across boundaries. Parents and teachers
need to know when old attitudes are outdated in a changing world, and education should oppose national self-
righteousness. Modern swift communication can aid world solidarity but also enables distortions of truth to be
broadcast more widely. It will aid peace if nations can see themselves as others see them. We know of no evidence
that any ethnic group is inherently inferior, and colonial exploitation and oppression of minorities is incompatible
with peace. Social scientists are also separated by nation, class, and ideology, making it hard to resist some
pseudo-scientific theories that political leaders exploit. Objectivity in social sciences is threatened when
investigators must accept narrow partisan views, leading to an urgent need for international research. We
recommend an international university and world institutes of social sciences under international auspices.
International studies in the tensions, aspirations, insecurities, and education of the young are needed. Because
physical and biological sciences have led to weapons, the social forces at work must be clearly understood to make
the technologies more constructive. Social sciences have a vital part to play. A hopeful sign is that boundaries
between sciences are breaking down. We can make it clear to people that freedom and well-being of one is bound
up with freedom and well-being for all (Cantril, 1950).
There was also a wider geographic inclusion in this book, as it added an appendix called "A Statement by
Scientists in Japan on the Problem of Peace." The American statement was first signed and promulgated in July of
1958, and that November 59 leading Japanese scholars gathered under the leadership of Nosei Abe, who had
been Minister of Education, Hyoye Ouchi, then professor of economics at Tokyo University, and Yoshio Nishina,
Director of the Science Research Institute and president of the UNESCO club of Japan. They studied the statement
and said they agreed strongly with it, adding similar points. They brought up as a point that was very important that
freedom of speech and opinion is an indispensable condition for preventing war and defending peace. This was
attested by their own recent bitter experience of the rise of militarism in Japan leading up to World War II. They said
the warmongers had launched their barbaric schemes first by suppressing freedom of speech (Cantril, 1950).
Meanwhile, a major post-war development occurred in 1947, which would have long-lasting and widespread
repercussions. The British government left India to its own home rule after decades of successful nonviolent
resistance by the Indians, including Mohandas Gandhi. Experience now showed nonviolent action to be a plausible
strategy in a real-world setting. A subsequent wave of movements sparked by this achievement over the next three
decades succeeded in removing colonial powers from several countries. This was especially so in Africa, where 6
countries gained independence in the 1950s, 17 in 1960 alone, and 17 more from 1961-1968, so that 40 countries
became independent in just two decades. India's independence movement also inspired the Civil Rights Movement
for racial equality in the United States. Later successful campaigns in places such as the Philippines and Eastern
Europe built on these past successes. All these historical events gave peace psychologists ample material from
which to build theory, concepts, and applications of psychological principles.
In continued post-World War II developments, Arthur Gladstone and Herbert Kelman (1951) published a letter
to the editor in American Psychologist which asserted that pacifist arguments about foreign policy were consistent
with findings derived from psychology. They cited four areas:
(a) Frustration-aggression: When counter-aggression is an additional frustration, it adds to the increase of
aggression on both sides. History and case studies do not show times when force or the threat of force frightened
aggressive tendencies out of a group.
(b) Phenomenological reality: Perceived threat is more important that the objective threat to determining behavior.
To avoid war, we must understand how others perceive the situation. If one group believes its weapons build-up is
defensive but the other group perceives it as a prelude to an attack, that perception by the second group needs to
be understood by the first group, no matter what they insist is actually the case.
(c) The therapeutic approach: If the "patient" is a national or political group, using various persuasive and
nonviolent methods is more likely to lead to favorable changes while violence defeats the purpose.
(d) The danger of habituation: Training in mass murder, callousness toward bloodshed, stimulation of hate, and
centralization of authority are all required for war and can become habits that continue afterward and threaten
democracy. Habits of peace and democracy have deteriorated in the meantime.
Gladstone and Kelman said they were offering these thoughts not as final conclusions but to stimulate
discussion among psychologists. They were successful in bringing about discussion, because in response to this
letter, an informal group gathered in 1952 for the purpose of founding the Research Exchange for the Prevention
of War. The Research Exchange published a regular bulletin, and had workshops and conferences to encourage
research on war prevention. Psychologists were the majority of the group. The use of "prevention of war" instead of
"peace" was due to the emerging atmosphere of McCarthyism, in which the term "peace" was associated with
appeasement to a Communist threat and therefore seen as something that was advocated by Communist
sympathizers. This atmosphere continued to severely dampen peace psychology and the entire peace movement
throughout the 1950s. In 1957, the bulletin of the Research Exchange turned into The Journal of Conflict
Resolution, an interdisciplinary journal in international relations. SPSSI took over the remainder of the functions, so
the Research Exchange was laid to rest (Jacobs, 1989).
The American Psychological Association also maintained some activities in relation to peace. From 1957-
1960, on various occasions groups of American psychologists took trips to the Soviet Union, many sponsored by
the APA. In 1959, APA authorized a survey of 75 psychologists of various specialties who had been involved in
peace issues on how psychologists might contribute to "maintenance of peace." The report was published in the
American Psychologist (Russell, 1960) and led to an ad hoc committee which a year later became the standing
Committee on Psychology in National and International Affairs (CPNIA), led by Charles Osgood. A progress report
from 1962 in the American Psychologist shows CPNIA has established communication with the executive branch
and U.S. Congress. CPNIA also hired a liaison/lobbyist. Continued work included meetings, conferences, a
comprehensive collection of psychological research related to international relations, public information activities,
and a Congressional Fellowship Program (Jacobs, 1989).
The Kennedy administration was especially welcoming of the advice of academics, including psychologists.
Senator Hubert Humphrey also wanted to involve psychologists in foreign policy matters. This allowed psychological
knowledge of peace issues to flourish Amitai Etzioni noted in a letter that his work and that of Charles Osgood were
widely reviewed and discussed within the administration (Jacobs, 1989, p. 55).
Psychologists for Peace was established in June, 1961. It was intended as a first step toward an international
organization. Activities included a "walk for peace" in January 1962, a petition to President Kennedy on the
Psychology of Negotiations signed by 500 social scientists, and a workshop on the psychology of fallout shelters
Also in 1961, on September 4, Ralph K. White offered a major conceptual development by giving a speech
called "Mirror Images in the East-West Conflict." White was a psychologist at the United States Information Agency.
Based on a study of 1,400 quotations from different sources on both sides, he proposed a universal pattern of
imagery between conflicting groups by which each sees their own side as good and the other as bad in similar
terms. Those terms include that the those on the other side are the aggressors; their government exploits and
deludes the people; the mass of their people are not really sympathetic to the regime; they cannot be trusted; and
their policy verges on madness. These beliefs tend to be self-confirming. When people on one side sees actions as
unfriendly, those people respond in an unfriendly way. The other side perceives this as unfriendly and responds in
kind. A cycle continues.
The New York Times was among many newspapers that covered this in a report called "Psychologist Asserts
that U.S. and the Soviet Union Share Similar Illusions About Each Other." That September, Senator Thomas J.
Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut, put the speech in the Congressional Record, refuted it, and wanted White fired
from his government post. The American Psychological Association came to his defense, with a unanimous vote of
its Board. (Jacobs, 1989).
During this time, Charles Osgood (1962) presented his Graduated and Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension-
reduction (GRIT) proposal in a book, An Alternative to War or Surrender. This was a step-by-step approach to a
tension-reduction strategy, a de-escalation. The basic idea was to run the arms race in reverse, to use the same
dynamic of the race itself to gradually reduce rather than constantly increase tensions. Osgood sent a copy of the
book to President Kennedy and received a personal note from Kennedy's secretary saying Kennedy had read it.
Later policies of Kennedy suggest he was influenced by it (Etzioni, 1967).
Developments in over-all studies and research in peace would naturally form a part of the organizational fate
of peace psychology. Peace Studies as a scholarly focus of inquiry began as a program at Manchester College in
Indiana under the guidance of Gladys Muir in 1948. It has expanded since then and now has some form of
organizational presence on hundreds of campuses. In 1964, the International Peace Research Association (IPRA)
developed from a 1963 conference organized by the Quaker International Conferences and Seminars held in
Switzerland. IPRA has held biennial conferences all over the globe ever since. Its purpose has been to advance
peace research and to disseminate its results, promote studies and teaching, and to facilitate contacts and
cooperation between scholars and educators throughout the world.
Norwegian Johan Galtung (1969) was particularly prominent in peace research and is often cited for two
conceptual distinctions. The first is the difference between "negative peace" and "positive peace." Negative peace
means the absence of war and other forms of direct violence. Positive peace is a condition where nonviolence,
social justice, and ecological sustainability remove the causes of violence. The other distinction is between "direct
violence" and "structural violence." Direct violence involves intentionally harmful actions carried out by individuals,
whether by doing them or by ordering them done. Structural violence is carried out by social organizations.
Individuals are not targeted, but are left in poverty or otherwise put harm's way, as with unsafe working conditions
or dangerous products or disease from pollution.
Galtung developed the concept of structural violence in part because peace advocates that were opposed to
direct violence such as war were accused of supporting an unjust status quo by opposing violent revolution against
it. By accounting harm-causing social situations as being also a form of violence, opposition to violence becomes
Both of these definitional distinctions were part of an expanding understanding of what peace and therefore
peace psychology would entail, beyond that of simple prevention of war and the similar violence of genocides and
nuclear weapons. A nonviolent campaign which would otherwise be seen as disturbing the peace by raising
tensions and causing conflict could thereby be seen as promoting positive peace by virtue of trying to stop
The late 1960s saw quite a bit of political turmoil, and as part of this, the Board of the APA became outraged
by the police brutality against anti-war protesters at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. It voted to move its
annual convention away from Chicago where it had been set for the following year. At 1968's annual APA
convention, American Psychologists for Social Action (APSA) was formed. It focused on the Vietnam War and
militarism, with interests also in racism, civil rights of mental patients, and similar concerns.
Understanding and application of conflict resolution was also developing well in the 1960s. The first problem-
solving workshops to find integrative solutions were held in 1965 for representatives of governments, in this case
the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore (Burton, 1969). These were sponsored by the London-
based Centre for Analysis of Conflict. Meetings lasted over a week. Third-party facilitators kept the conversation
away from zero-sum thinking, where a win by one side means a loss by another, instead favoring acceptable
outcomes for all. Whether due to workshops or primarily other factors, hostilities did cease soon thereafter. Further
development of the concept led to training of diplomats in "second-track" diplomacy in which such informal meetings
can complement and assist the formal negotiations, allowing for a forum to air concerns and creative options.
When conflicts have lasted for decades or centuries and involve ethnic hatreds and cycles of retaliation, then the
interests of the parties are ignored as emotions of animosity take over. Techniques of dealing with such intractable
conflicts become much more sophisticated and, like the conflicts themselves, long-lasting (see, for example,
Rouhana & Kelman, 1994). One historical example of deliberate reconciliation efforts after such a conflict was
resolved occurred with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The emotional work of uncovering
what actually happened, in exchange for amnesty to the perpetrators, replaced both punitive measures and
attempts at merely forgetting which were likely to be psychologically unsuccessful (Tutu, 1999). Further research
into causes, consequences, and remedies of chronic conflicts has been and is likely to continue to be a major
focus, since throughout the twentieth century and currently, these types of feuds are among the major causes of
loss of life through violence.
During the 1970s peace psychologists made several conceptual developments, including major empirical
studies. In 1971, Phil Zimbardo and his colleagues conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment. This was intended to
be a simulated prison for two weeks, but was shut down after 6 days because experimenters observed excessive
dehumanization. Since participants were screened for abnormality and randomly assigned to the roles of prisoners
or guards, it surprised the experimenters that not only the participants but even the experimenters themselves got
so involved in their roles that they started thinking in dehumanized terms. (The official web site for the Stanford
Prison Experiment, which includes a slide show of the study, is at www.prisonexp.org).
Around the same time, Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiments on destructive obedience to authority
(Milgram, 1974). These experiments showed an alarmingly high compliance rate with harmful orders from authority
figures, in the form of demands to continue higher electric shocks despite apparent distress from the supposed
recipient of the shocks. This helps account for how so many will "follow orders" even when brutality is involved. A
startled community of social psychologists ran several years of replicating experiments to discover the variations of
conditions that affect the compliance rate. Finally, most institutional review boards shut down further experiments
due to the ethics of deception and causing participants to suffer high distress. The understandings uncovered by
these experiments are useful in explaining real-world events. Milgram had originally intended to try the experiment
on Americans, find a low compliance rate, then test Germans to find the cultural differences accounting for what
was then fairly recent memories of Nazi abuses. The variable of cultural differences was actually one that caused
little difference; Milgram had found a cross-cultural psychological dynamic (Blass, 2000).
Also around this time, in another conceptual advance on situational pressures, Irving Lester Janis (1972)
published Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. This applied a
new psychological construct to an analysis of why members of the United States presidential administration had
bumbled into the Bay of Pigs blunder in Cuba. The new construct of "groupthink" proved useful in understanding
many other battle and policy situations. Janis suggested that groups can sometimes make decisions which are
much more irrational than individuals would do on their own. Pressures for group consensus, diffusion of
responsibility, and similar factors can help account for why decisions that ought to have been understood as unwise
are nevertheless made.
Developments in the psychological understanding of nonviolence were also occurring at this time. Richard
Gregg (1972) published The Psychology and Strategy of Gandhi's Nonviolent Resistance, introducing a
psychological foundation for Gandhi's political concepts. Gene Sharp (1973) published a 3-volume foundational
work called The Politics of Nonviolent Action. The set covers political dynamics, history, and psychological
components. The psychological basis of political power is particularly explicated here, why people obey authority
and why they might withhold their obedience. Leroy H. Pelton (1974) published a book called The Psychology of
Nonviolence, using established social psychological constructs to explain how nonviolent action might work,
including the need for cognitive consistency to avoid the tensions of cognitive dissonance. Later suggestions for
the psychological effectiveness of nonviolent confrontation techniques include attribution theory, whereby people
attribute their own bad behavior to the situation and their own good behavior to their own personalities. In this
case, the people targeted by a nonviolent campaign attribute their own violent behavior to the situation, and they
can credit their change of behavior to their inherently good personality dispositions. This is an interpretation that
the nonviolent campaigners encourage (Mayton, 2001). Also suggested have been the campaign's deliberate
reduction of the outgroup homogeneity effect in its targets as well as in itself, and the strong effects of social
referencing and role expectations (MacNair, 2003).
Along with the causes of war and other forms of violence, the psychological consequences of violence, to both
victims and perpetrators, has received attention from peace psychologists. A major development occurred in 1980,
when the long-standing observations of "battle fatigue" and "war neurosis" congealed into the concept of
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This was formally defined in the diagnostic manuals of the American
Psychiatric Association (1987, 1994), and the World Health Organization (1992). An explosion of research into the
disorder and its symptoms ensued and is still lively. It was expanded from veterans to refugees and other direct
victims of war and to crime victims. It applies to any form of trauma, but it has been clear from experience that PTSD
symptoms tend to be more severe when the trauma is inflicted by another person, as opposed to accident or
natural disaster. In 1990, Kulka and colleagues published the results of a major United States government study
showing that full and partial PTSD were in fact widespread among American veterans of the war in Vietnam. More
recently, the idea that being the agent that causes trauma -- that is, killing or committing other direct violence -- can
also lead to PTSD symptoms has received some attention (MacNair, 2002).
In 1982, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) was founded and focused on preventing nuclear war. It
currently remains one of the major grass-roots networks of psychologists active in peace concerns in the United
States. Also that year, the APA Council of Representatives passed a resolution calling for a nuclear freeze, a return
to a productive civilian economy, and encouraging members to be politically active in pursuit of these (Mervis,
1982). The resolution was disseminated through the press and other public forums. APA's Board of Scientific Affairs
objected strenuously on the grounds that it is inappropriate for a scientific organization to engage in social
advocacy, but the resolution stood.
Organizationally, it was in 1988 that Division 48, the "Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence:
Peace Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association." was established by vote of the APA Council,
a vote that James Polyson and Michael Wessells had especially pushed for (Jacobs, 1989). It had failed the
previous year on grounds that APA already had outlets for peace psychology, especially SPSSI. However, SPSSI
deals with a much wider range of issues. Division 48 is still large and active. The Division publishes a journal
devoted to peace psychology, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, which first appeared in 1995.
In 1989, the first International Symposium on the Contributions of Psychology to Peace was held in Bulgaria
and attracted peace psychologists from a variety of countries. The organization continued to hold symposiums
every other year in Germany, the United States, South Africa, Australia, Costa Rica, the Philippines, and a
continuing dispersion of venues. In 1994 UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific & Cultural Organization)
commissioned a background paper by the Committee for the Psychological Study of Peace of the International
Union of Psychological Science, highlighting the contributions psychology can make to peace and social justice.
The practical application of peace psychology took its first casualty in 1989. Prominent Salvadoran peace
psychologist Ignacio Martín-Baró was one of six Jesuit priests, along with their housekeeper and her 16-year-old
daughter, who were assassinated by a Salvadoran death squad on November 16. There were four memorial
sessions for him the following year at the American Psychological Association annual convention alone. He had
been active in providing psychological healing services to the traumatized in El Salvador's war, in understanding the
subjective state of the population, and in what was perceived by the government as his most subversive activity,
public opinion polling of the population. This gave people the information of what was commonly thought, with the
understanding that this information mattered. Martín-Baró was active in whatever ways psychology could be used to
promote peace in the midst of a brutal war, and he became a victim of that war (Kelman, 1995).
Researchers have identified and investigated many of the cognitive processes behind various forms of
violence. Albert Bandura and his colleagues argued that the most inhumane behavior comes from psychological
processes by which original ideas of moral conduct are disengaged. They suggested that the idea that these "moral
disengagement" mechanisms remove inhibitions has been extensively documented in historical atrocities, and
confirmed in laboratory studies of punitive behavior (Bandura, Barbanelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 1996). The most
effective of these mechanisms is the cognitive transformation of the reprehensible conduct into good conduct, and
can be done through moral justifications, comparison to worse conduct making this conduct seem less
consequential, and the use of euphemisms. Other mechanisms include displacing the responsibility, diffusing the
responsibility for the conduct or for its detrimental effects to others, especially those in authority, or minimizing,
ignoring or distorting those detrimental effects. Dehumanizing or blaming the victim, along with demonizing the
opposition, have also long been noted.
William Brennan (1995) developed this last point at greater length with the concept of "semantic
dehumanization." Brennan gave various categories of such "linguistic warfare" that have been used to facilitate
violence against people. The people are deficient humans, non-humans, non-persons, animals, parasites,
diseases, inanimate objects, or waste products. He offered an array of quotations from throughout history to depict
these attitudes, arguing that these attitudes have helped cause much violence against vulnerable groups.
Abuse of medicine is a peculiar form of violence in that it is more difficult to recognize as violence. The same
acts of sticking needles into arms or causing someone to become unconscious and then cutting them would be
violence outside the context of inoculations and surgery. Since they are seen as beneficial to the person to whom
they are voluntarily done, they are medicine instead. However, if that beneficence is removed, they become simple
violence. Yet they might retain the aura of prestige that medicine normally entails. Robert Jay Lifton (1986) found
this particularly potent in a book about the Nazi doctors at the concentration camps. More recently, efforts at
genocide or eugenics that use the gentleness of enforced sterilization rather than actual killing can use the same
mechanism, allowing for a medical approach to hide the sense of trauma felt by victims. Still controversial are the
areas of abortion and assisted suicide, whether these are matters of autonomy with their absence being medical
neglect, or whether these are matters of killing and therefore, under a consistent life ethic, are connected to other
forms of killing in causation and effect. The psychological role of medicine in war also receives attention, as doctors
and psychological therapists both have to wrestle with how well they benefit patients if the result is to send them
back into combat (MacNair, 2003).
Throughout the decades, various forms of peace education have developed. In 1970, for example, Brazilian
Paulo Friere published Pedagogy of the Oppressed, detailing an adult education method called "conscientization."
Adults participating in this education strategy study violence and develop and implement nonviolent alternatives.
For the various approaches to peace education, there has been an upsurge of publications, practices, and studies
of effectiveness. In addition to the original approaches of international perspectives which teach people to be global
citizens and regard those in other cultures with understanding, an especially popular approach has been teaching
children conflict resolution and other violence prevention skills. There have been moral and character and religious
approaches, nonviolence, environmental, and human rights approaches, along with public education on specific
public policy issues, use of artistic media, and of course the interdisciplinary area of peace studies itself along with
disciplines such as peace psychology. Activity in this area is quite extensive. The many studies on effectiveness of
programs with children are showing encouraging results. Textbooks focusing specifically on the entire field of peace
psychology itself are a more recent development (Christie, Wagner, & Winter, 2001; MacNair, 2003).
This short survey shows several trends in peace psychology. In earlier years, the focus was on war and related
military matters, with international policies and understandings of different cultures. A major concern of early
statements and writings was to dispel the idea that violence and aggression are part of human nature and that war
in general is therefore inevitable. This theme appears less frequently in later writings, writings characterized by an
understanding that the point was established and further work could build on that understanding. In all fields, of
course, simple points are generally established first and more sophisticated points come later. Expansions have
included other kinds of socially-approved violence, greater understandings of how counter-violence behavior works
psychologically, domestic as well as international concerns, and grassroots activists along with policy-makers. Many
areas have not been covered in this short survey which are bound to be missed as important points by many peace
psychologists. Examples include parenting discipline styles, moral development, and burnout in activists.
Peace psychology is an area that is especially sensitive to political events. Before World War I, most focus was
on preventing the kind of wars common to the nineteenth century, with much effort expended in trying to establish
that war was actually undesirable. Both world wars understandably brought about more interest in the question of
war prevention. World War II also brought an intensification of interest in genocide, and in its immediate aftermath
the questions of nuclear weapons policy. The McCarthyism of the 1950s and the social activism of the 1960s left
their marks on the practice of psychology in general and peace psychology in particular. The economic sanctions
regime of the 1990s on Iraq offered a new area of war, the modern form of the siege, for psychologists to study.
The long interest in terrorism was intensified by the September 11, 2001 attacks and is likely to lead to much more
scholarship in that area. Many areas of peace psychology have remained constant throughout, but other areas
have had to adapt to new realities in a field where events in the news and grassroots activities in various
populations are major sources of primary material.
In the case of peace psychology, the definitions and events that have occurred have added threads of topics
that interweave with each other and interweave also with the remainder of psychology. The disputes of psychology,
such as that over situational versus dispositional variables in influencing behavior, are reflected also in this sub-
discipline. Any move toward an eclectic understanding, that various schools of thought and differing perspectives all
have something to contribute and can be woven together to understand reality, is likely to be especially appealing
in a field like peace psychology. The conflict resolution techniques so integral to the field include precisely that kind
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