Using science to avoid ethnic violence
What if we could use science to understand, accurately predict, and ultimately avoid, ethnic violence? A new study published in PLOS ONE does just that. The key to peace, the theory argues, is to either completely integrate or completely separate people based on cultural, linguistic, and ethnical differences.
Researchers at New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) analyzed two countries that both have boundaries separating cultural and linguistic groups, and found that the violence in both cases matched the theory's predictions, but in very different ways. Switzerland, a model of success when it comes to peace, contains boundaries within it that align with people ethnicities, and has almost no violence. In fact, the only area of violence occurs in Jura, precisely where NECSI's theory predicts that the boundaries between groups are insufficient. In Yugoslavia on the other hand, the boundaries do not actually align with people's differences and, as predicted, there is violence at the points of friction. This shows that there are right ways and there are wrong ways to set up boundaries to achieve peace within a country. Knowing that can help us make informed decisions and design for peace.
"We've seen that the ways borders and boundaries between groups are arranged really can prevent violence. When I think of the suffering and the lives lost, and I see those results, the findings just can't be ignored," said Andreas Gros, one of the authors.
Social psychologists: war is not inevitable
Leidner and colleagues recall how political and social psychology researchers have in recent decades steadily gained more understanding, through research, of such psychological factors as intergroup threat, uncertainty, group identity, emotions, moral beliefs and how intergroup conflict affects views of the world and of oneself.
They review theory and research that specify psychological factors that contribute to and perpetuate intergroup violence through emotional responses and belief systems fostered by conflict. Finally, they summarize ideas of how psychological "defenses of peace" –– a phrase in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) preamble –– can be constructed in the human mind.
The authors acknowledge that conflict and violence between groups persist because they often give people ways to address psychological needs, for identity, safety, security and power. Nonviolence has received far less media and research attention, they point out, but this should change. The UMass Amherst team urges social psychologists to consider factors that increase empathy and understanding of others, along with factors that increase the capacity for critical evaluation of the "ingroup."