Suggestions for Research Projects in Peace Psychology

from Rachel M. MacNair, Ph.D.

If you use any of these ideas, please let me know - I can also let you know if someone else is already pursing them,
so you could collaborate or replicate. Send correspondence to


   Dane Archer (1984, pp. 118-139) has shown that the homicide rate after wars tends to go up -- especially when
the war was large, and in the victorious nation. This includes murders done by women and by men not of veteran
age, so it is due to more than the actions of returning veterans. He concludes on the basis of the evidence that the
most robust explanation is a "legitimation of violence model." The government has provided a model for the citizenry
of how to solve problems with homicide. Meanwhile, Gene Sharp  (1973, pp. 789-793) notes that it is common for
violent crime rates to decrease during nonviolent campaigns. He believes this is due to the presence of active
nonviolence undercutting the beliefs upon which violent action is based. To make this parallel, though Sharp does
not use the term, this could be called a "de-legitimation of violence model." However, Sharp merely notes that the
phenomenon occurs in some cases; he never subjects the premise to rigorous statistical scrutiny. He was also
writing at a time before many of the larger nonviolent campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s had occurred.
   Using the Archer study of post-war homicide rates as a starting point, gather data on homicide and perhaps other
violent crime rates before, during, and after major nonviolent campaigns in the vicinity (to find a good list of such
campaigns, see the
Global Nonviolent Action Data Base). As with Archer, match these with similar countries at the
same time period that were not near the nonviolent campaign action.

 RESEARCH QUESTION: Is the rate of violent crime during and soon after major nonviolent campaigns consistent
with a de-legitimation of violence model?

   Archer, D. (1984).
Violence and crime in cross-national perspective. New Haven: Yale University Press.
   Sharp, G. (1973).
The politics of nonviolent action (Vol. 3). Boston, MA: Extending Horizons Books.


  Much study has been done of the Rorschach tests done on the 16 Nuremberg War Criminals (Zillmer, Harrower,
Ritzler, & Archer, 1995). There were also about 200 such tests done on Danish collaborators to the Nazis. Some of
these killed people, while others merely did support services such as sabotage. There is a hypothesis that those
who killed should show more severe Posttraumatic Stress disorder symptoms, with emphasis on intrusive imagery
and irritable outbursts (MacNair, 2002; see pages 49-51 for discussion of Rorschach in Nazis specifically). There is
also some work suggesting what scores on certain items in the Rorschach would tend to indicate PTSD (See Levin,
1993, to begin)

RESEARCH QUESTION: Are scores on the Rorschach that indicate post-trauma symptoms higher for those who
did kill than for those who did not? Are the pattern of symptoms consistent with that found in the American veterans
of the war in Vietnam (MacNair, 2002, pp. 13-29, 173-181)?

Caveat: I do not yet know whether information is available on the Nazi individuals that would allow this division of
those who killed and those who did not.

Levin, P. (1993). Assessing posttraumatic stress disorder with the Rorschach projective technique." In  J. P. Wilson,
B. Raphael (Eds.)
International handbook of traumatic stress syndromes (pp. 189-200). New York: Plenum Press.
MacNair, R. M. (2002). Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The psychological consequences of killing.
Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers
Zillmer, E. A., Harrower, M., Ritzler, B. A., Archer, R. P. (1995).
The quest for the Nazi personality: A psychological
investigation of Nazi war criminals
. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


   Make a measure for people's understanding of power. Is it the monolithic view, whereby people hold power in
their hands, or the pluralistic-dependency view, in which power is given by people choosing to obey (Sharp, 1973,
Chapter 1)? Once this is measured, how do scores on this correlate with scores on scales that test dealing with
problems in terms of violence and nonviolence? Scales for measurement of violence/nonviolence attitudes can be
found in Elliott, 1980 and Kool & Sen, 1984, but of course they are still in development and a literature search may
find the latest developments. Various groups of respondents, including students, could be used for this study.
 RESEARCH QUESTION: Is the monolithic view of power associated with a tendency toward violence, and the
pluralistic/dependency view of power associated with nonviolent problem-solving, as Sharp suggests?

FUTURE RESEARCH QUESTION: If a strong correlation is found, would the intervention of educating about the
different views of power lead to statistically significant higher scores on measures for nonviolent problem-solving?

   Elliott, G. C. (1980). Components of pacifism: Conceptualization and measurement.
Journal of Conflict
Resolution, 24,
   Kool, V. K. & Sen, M. (1984). The nonviolence test. In D. M. Pestonjee (Ed.),
Second handbook of psychological
and social instruments
(pp. 18-54). Ahemdebad: Indian Institute of Management.
   Sharp, G. (1973).
The politics of nonviolent action (Vol. 1). Boston, MA: Extending Horizons Books.


  Martin Seligman (1991) has proposed that an optimistic explanatory style is associated with benefits of physical
health, achievement, and avoidance of depression. MacNair (2011, pp. 106-108) explains how this style is
consistent with nonviolent activism, a cause that makes nonviolent action possible and a side-effect that naturally
follows for those who practice it regularly. There are many times when events conspire to make activists very
discouraged. It may be that those that accordingly start and maintain a pessimistic explanatory style will tend to drop
out of activism, but those that go back to the optimistic explanatory style are more likely to remain. A scale that
measures explanatory style could be given to those who have long been and continue to be active as one group,
and to those who used to be active but are no longer as another.

RESEARCH QUESTION: Do activists that continue any kind of social justice movement work have significantly
higher scores on optimistic explanatory style related to discouraging events compared with those who were active
once but have dropped out?

MacNair, R. M. (2011). The Psychology of Peace: An Introduction (2nd Edition). Newport, CT: Praeger.
Seligman, M. (1991).
Learned optimism.  New York: A. A. Knopf


   Eidetic dreams -- dreams that are like video re-plays of the actual event -- have been reported as common in
victims of trauma, as part of the symptomatology of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Yet it is not clear that they are as
common for those who were perpetrators of the trauma. Some preliminary counseling work suggests themes of
being killed one's self, and having those one has killed be accusatory (MacNair, 2002, esp. pages 136-39). These
themes in particular could be codified in sets of dream reports from veterans.

RESEARCH QUESTION: On standardized scoring for content analysis of dreams (Domhoff, 1996), along with the
extra themes of being killed or having accusations from those one has killed, what are the differences in dreams
from those veterans who killed compared to those who did not, when both groups show signs of Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder?

Domhoff, G. W. (19960.
Finding Meaning in Dreams: A Quantitative Approach. New York: Plenum Press.
MacNair, R. M. (2002). Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The psychological consequences of killing.
Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers


 There have been many studies on the psychological impacts of viewing violence in the media, including its
propensity for an immediate increase in aggression in children and other viewers (see Bushman & Anderson, 2001,
for overview). Brain scans during viewing of violence also show particular patterns, lab experiments show greater
aggression after violent viewing, scales show mood alterations, etc.

RESEARCH QUESTION: What are the psychological impacts and brain patterns for viewing active nonviolence --
courageous, firm, and dramatic responses to violence without using avoidance or violence in return?

 This question (actually, set of questions) has the major confounding problem that nonviolent responses to violence
generally require showing the violence, and then the showing of violence can overshadow or confound any effect of
nonviolence. One researcher, Brad Bushman, reports that there was negative affect after viewing such a scene
from the movie Gandhi, for example. The violence to which the nonviolence was responding was quite graphic. The
solution to this problem might be to use scenes in which the violence being responded to is potential rather than
actual, though with a potential that is very real. Some such scenes from popular literature include:

 In the Disney movie
Pocahantas, the father is about to execute John Smith and Pocahantas intervenes by placing
herself over John Smith, preventing the execution. This also stops a momentum toward a battle on both sides.

 In
The Scarlet and the Black, a Nazi colonel aims a rifle at a priest who is not supposed to cross a white line. The
priest deliberately waves his foot close to the line, and looks pleasantly but firmly and defiantly at the colonel
through the sites of the gun as the colonel's finger goes on the trigger.

 In the CBS mini-series called
Jesus, near the beginning, there is a confrontation in the Temple between the
priests and Pontius Pilate. Pilate wants to put up the Roman standards in defiance of Jewish religious law, but the
priests bare their necks and say they would rather die than allow the standards to be brought in. Startled, Pilate
decides this is too much blood for his first day and withdraws. (This is based on an actual historical event, according
to Josephus).

 This would be much harder to find, but in an episode of
The Partridge Family, the David Cassidy character is
pursued by a bully and near the end holds his ground, saying that he will neither fight nor run away. The bully

RELATED RESEARCH QUESTION: If the graphic violence is presented as a problem which the hero solves rather
than participating in, does this lead to differences in levels of aggression compared with the hero using violence as
a problem-solving technique?

Bushman, B. J., & Anderson, C. A. (2001). Media violence and the American public: Scientific facts versus media
American Psychologist, 56, 477-489.


 Military personnel are select for being healthy, young, athletic people. Does the knowledge that they are likely to
be called up to war lead to an unconscious increase in accident-causing activity that might injure them sufficiently to
make them ineligible for call-up?

RESEARCH QUESTION: What is the accident rate of soldiers during times of impending call-up to war compared to
times of no war?

(no references -- I was just impressed with the number of stories I heard of young men having mildly debilitating
accidents during the months leading up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, despite my not knowing many
people in the armed forces. It may well be that there is no statistically significant difference.)

Back to Home Page