The psychology of intractable conflicts: Eruption, escalation, and peacemaking

Daniel Bar-Tal, Eran Halperin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The study of intractable conflicts and their resolution is an examination of a unique context and real-life societal issue. It mandates special efforts to elucidate its dynamics, as intractable conflicts have immense effects on the well-being of the societies involved in them, and often also on the international community in its entirety. The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, and Rwanda constitute prototypical examples of these types of conflict. The chapter, focusing on the macro-level analysis, aims mainly to describe the unique nature of intractable conflicts and delineate their major societal emotional-cognitive behavioral processes, as well as the evolved socio-psychological repertoire that fuels them and the processes that are involved in resolving them peacefully. This goal is achieved by analyzing the course of intractable conflict and its peaceful resolution via its three main phases: eruption of intractable conflict, its escalation and management, and its de-escalation and movement toward peacemaking. Additionally, the chapter strives to make this analysis within a conceptual framework that focuses on the interrelationship between the context and the collective psychological state of society members. Of special importance for our conceptual framework is Lewin's application of the theory to the group situation. He suggested that the behavior of a group, as that of an individual, is affected greatly by the collective perception of the environment and the group's characteristics. On the basis of this classical theoretical framework, which was supported by later conceptions, we suggest that understanding collective behaviors in intractable conflict requires an analysis of the psychological conditions of the conflict's context (i.e., an environment, a field) and the collective psychological state of the involved societies, which includes the lasting psychological repertoire of the collective as well as immediate psychological response tendencies. Therefore, our analysis of each phase of the intractable conflict and its resolution will use these two mega-elements, as well as their continuous interaction as building blocks of the conceptual framework. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of political psychology
EditorsLeonie Huddy, David O. Sears, Jack S. Levy
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Print)9780199760107 , 0199760101
StatePublished - 2013


  • *Collective Behavior
  • *Conflict
  • *Intergroup Dynamics
  • *Political Psychology
  • *Social Environments
  • Peacekeeping


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