Natural Conflict Resolution (I)

“During the past two decades there has been a sharp increase in interest in cooperation, peace, and conflict resolution in disparate disciplines, such as anthropology, social and developmental psychology, ethology, political sciences, and legal studies. We have closely followed this development in animal behavior and directly participated in it with our work on nonhuman primates. In the past few years, we have had an increasing number of exchanges with colleagues from different disciplines and realized the common bases underlying these heterogeneous research efforts. This volume aims to bring together the various approaches to the study of conflict management and to emphasize the similarities among them. […] we combine in one volume 36 original contributions based on the efforts of 52 authors and coauthors. […] Each contribution is a review of a particular aspect of the vast topic of conflict management: some contributions summarize years of research, whereas others present recent developments. Each contribution is written to stand on its own, but it is also a part of the whole. […] The result is an interdisciplinary volume that provides an overview of progress on many aspects of natural conflict resolution.”

I’ve as already mentioned been reading this book. It’s full of good stuff, I really like it so far. There’s a lot of stuff about the behaviours of apes and monkey in this book as well (there are e.g. chapters with titles like ‘Covariation of Conflict Management Patterns across Macaque Species’ and ‘The Peacefulness of Cooperatively Breeding Primates’), but in the coverage below I’ve mostly limited myself to coverage of studies on humans as the first chapters of the book mostly deal with these kinds of things. I’ll probably talk about some of the animal study results later on. When reading the last of the chapters from which I quote below, I was actually thinking to myself that ‘the stuff in this chapter is the kind of stuff all parents should really know about and be aware of…’ I’m sure almost none of them do, they just do what they do and many of them are probably doing perfectly alright anyway, or at least ‘good enough’.

“Whether the units are people, animals, groups, or nations, as soon as several units together try to accomplish something, there is a need to overcome competition and set aside differences. The problem of a harmonization of goals and reduction of competition for the sake of larger objectives is universal, and the processes that serve to accomplish this may be universal too. These dynamics are present to different degrees among the employees within a corporation, the members of a small band of hunter-gatherers, or the individuals in a lion pride. In all cases, mechanisms for the regulation of conflict should be in place. […] the basic dilemma facing competitors is that they sometimes cannot win a fight without losing a friend and supporter. The same principle underlying all Darwinian theory, that individuals pursue their own reproductive interests, thus automatically leads one to assume that animals that depend on cooperation should either avoid open conflict or evolve ways to control the social damage caused by open conflict […] Conflict resolution, like conflict and cooperation, appears to be a natural phenomenon. We should then find similarities in its expression and procedures across cultures and species.”

And we do – an example:

“even though primate species vary greatly in conciliatory tendency, in all species reconciliation is most common after fights between partners with close social ties even if we control for the increased level of interaction among these individuals […] most human conflict concerns familiar individuals. […] not all psychologists and social scientists try to divorce aggressive conflict from other aspects of social life or view it as necessarily destructive and antisocial […] The conflict resolution perspective […] shifts attention from aggression as the expression of an internal state to aggression as the product of a conflict of interest. It regards aggressive behavior as the product of social decision making: it is one of several ways in which conflicts between individuals or groups can be resolved. This framework will be referred to here as the Relational Model […], because it concerns the way aggressive behavior functions within social relationships. […] Once aggressive conflict is viewed as an instrument to negotiate the terms of relationships—an instrument made possible by powerful constraints on the expression of aggression as well as the possibility of social repair—the definition of what is a close or distant relationship changes dramatically. Instead of classifying relationships simply in terms of rates of affiliative and aggressive behavior, the dynamic between the two becomes the critical factor. Relationships marked by high aggression rates may actually be quite close and cooperative. […] Paradoxically, the better developed mechanisms of conflict resolution are, the less reluctant individuals will be to engage in open conflict [as the] ability to maintain working relationships despite conflict, and to undo damage to relationships, makes room for aggression as an instrument of negotiation.”

“Successful social development reconciles individuation with social integration and requires the acquisition of conflict management skills that afford both. The interplay between individual and social motives is already apparent in conflict between toddlers. For instance, Hay & Ross (1982) found that 21-month-old winners of toys would often abandon the toy they had just taken from a peer in order to engage in a new dispute over another toy held by the former opponent. Such tendencies were common even when the toy held by the other was an exact copy of the toy originally won. Earlier, Eckerman et al. (1979) showed that to one-year-old children the attractiveness of a toy increased after another person touched it. Thus toddler conflict may serve to test the “social waters” and may be instrumental in the acquisition of knowledge about social relations as well as ownership.”

“Developmental research commonly focuses on distinct episodes that are separated in time and that can be broken down conceptually into three sequential phases: (1) instigation; (2) termination; and (3) immediate outcome (or resolution). The emphasis in this chapter is on conflict termination and immediate outcome, and for the purpose of our review we combine these under the heading of conflict management. Conflict management can be unilateral or bilateral. Unilateral conflict management is characterized by opportunism and lack of consideration for the opponent’s perspectives and wishes, as well as by subordination. Conversely, bilateral conflict management is characterized by mutual perspective taking and often by dovetailing of opposing goals and expectations […] Immediate outcome is commonly classified in two main categories: distributive and variable conflict outcomes. A distributive outcome includes situations during which one child’s gain is the other child’s loss. A variable outcome refers to situations in which both win or benefit from the resolution […] A variant of this latter category is the integrative outcome […] In this situation a shared interest in social interaction provides the basis for a mutually beneficial resolution.”

“Research on parent-child conflict during the first decade of life most often has focused on emotional outbursts, such as temper tantrums […] and coercive behavior of children toward other family members as evidence of conflict. The frequency of such behavior begins to decline during early childhood and continues to do so during middle childhood […] The frequency of episodes during which parents discipline their children also decreases between the ages of three and nine […] research on conflict management in this period has focused on the relative effectiveness of various parental strategies for gaining compliance and managing negative behaviors. As a result there is little descriptive information about the characteristics of conflict between parents and children and the role of each in conflict management. With young children, parents typically employ distraction and physical assertion for preventing harm and gaining compliance. In middle childhood, however, parents report less frequent physical punishment and increasing use of techniques such as deprivation of privileges, appeals to children’s self-esteem or sense of humor, arousal of children’s sense of guilt, and reminders that children are responsible for what happens to them […] Compared with preschool children, six- to twelve-year-olds are more likely to sulk, become depressed, avoid parents, or engage in passive noncooperation with their parents […] children are increasingly likely to attribute conflict with parents to the inadequacy of parental helping behaviors and disappointment in the frequency of parent-child interactions. […] Naturalistic observations, experimental analogues, and self-reports with both peers […] and family members […] show clearly that adolescents’ conflicts are most commonly terminated through power assertion and disengagement, rather than through negotiation. Later in adolescence preference for power-assertive techniques declines, thus making more complex bilateral techniques, such as negotiation, relatively more common. […] The importance of satisfying resolutions […] is indicated by repeated findings that bilateral engagement in terminating conflict, rather than the occurrence of conflict, is a marker of adaptive, well-functioning relationships […] Children’s concepts of the basis for parental authority also change with age. Whereas preschoolers view parental authority as resting on the power to punish or reward, children in early middle childhood increasingly believe parental authority derives from all the things that parents do for them. After about age eight, parents’ expert knowledge and skill are also seen as reasons to submit to their authority”

“Conflict is universally embedded in sibling relationships. Since most children have siblings, this means that sibling conflict is widely experienced. These conflicts, however, are both unilateral and bilateral in terms of the management tactics used. The use of unilateral tactics such as coercion has been found to be negatively correlated with cooperation between siblings. Unilateral tactics also negatively correlate with helping, sharing, and sympathy expressed by older siblings toward younger ones […] When mothers or fathers favor one sibling (or children perceive them that way), greater conflict and more coercive relations ensue between the children. Moreover, psychosocial adjustment is poorer among children who perceive themselves to be less positively treated by their parents than their siblings […] Overall, crossrelational continuities in conflict management suggest that families constitute social systems rather than separate dyads.”

“Laursen et al. (1998b) used a metaanalytic approach to take a general look at developmental differences in peer conflict management […] The meta-analysis showed that, overall, peers managed conflict more often with negotiation than with coercion or disengagement. Significant developmental contrasts emerged, however. Children (age 2–10) commonly employed coercion, whereas adolescents (age 11–18) frequently employed negotiation as well as coercion. Conversely, young adults (age 19–25) more often resorted to either negotiation or disengagement. […] The meta-analysis […] did not consider the aftermath of peer conflict. Recent cross-cultural findings showed that young children transformed a significant percentage of distributive outcomes into integrative resolutions after a “cooling-off” period of a few minutes […] When such post-conflict reconciliation […] is considered, young children appear considerably more constructive in their approach to peer conflict than one would infer from the aggregated findings of Laursen et al.”

“Interestingly, young children tend to have inflated views of the extent to which they are accepted by their peers […], and they commonly overestimate their own rank—and the rank of liked peers—in the dominance hierarchy […]. Several studies have established a link between conflict management and sociometric status. […] conciliatory strategies [have been] associated with popularity and coercive strategies with rejection by peers […] Commonly, when groups of children first meet (e.g., early in the new school year), conflicts, and assertive interactions not resulting in conflict, occur relatively frequently and contribute to the eventual establishment of a dominance hierarchy […] Once dominance relations are established, rates of conflict and aggression decrease […] first impressions seem to matter in peer groups. Ladd et al. (1988), for instance, found that preschoolers who frequently argued with their peers early in the year were likely to be rejected throughout the entire year. In fact, children who argued early in the year but changed their ways during the year were still rejected later in the year. In a similar vein Denham & Holt (1993) found that peer reputation established early in the year was a significantly stronger predictor of being liked later in the year than actual social behavior.”

“friendships emerge on the basis of shared interests and attitudes as well as the shared understanding that continued interaction between them is in their mutual interest. Observational studies show that, first, agreements must occur over time within a context of shared interests in order for acquaintances to become friends and, second, certain conflicts and certain modes of conflict management actually facilitate friendship formation. For example, the use of “soft” modes of conflict management (e.g., “weak demands” followed by agreement) are associated with “hitting it off” […] friends are more active in their search for solutions, are more taskoriented, and make more active use of conflict to obtain solutions than nonfriends. Overall, some two dozen published investigations contain data comparing friends and nonfriends in terms of conflict management. […] Metaanalyses based on the entire literature with children ranging from preschool age through preadolescence […] confirm the pattern we describe: conflict frequency does not generally differ between friends and nonfriends, but modes of conflict management do. […] Successive agreement/disagreement episodes are instrumental in friendship formation among peers.”

“In families, third parties often contribute to both the incidence and resolution of conflict. Some of these effects are indirect, in that the two principal parties to the conflict behave differently in the presence of the third party than they would under other conditions. For example, mother-son dyads have been found to manifest greater engagement, security, and consistency when the father was present than when mother and son were alone (Gjerde 1986). These differences suggest that in intact families fathers’ presence may indirectly facilitate integrative resolutions to conflict. […] We still know relatively little about the effects of peer intervention on resolution. Most of the available evidence associates peer intervention with distributive resolutions […] even children with a variety of disabilities are often able to manage their conflicts without adult intervention and […] adult mediation strategies should be aimed at helping children manage their conflicts rather than taking over conflict management from them (cf. Perlman & Ross 1997).”

May 30, 2014 - Posted by | anthropology, biology, books, Psychology

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