Why does fear override hope in societies engulfed by intractable conflict, as it does in the Israeli society?

Daniel Bar-Tal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

315 Scopus citations


The question of why fear overrides hope in societies embarked on the road of peacemaking after years of intractable conflict is answered on the basis of accumulated knowledge in the psychology and sociology of emotions. This knowledge suggests that fear is an automatic emotion, grounded in the perceived present and often based on the memorized past (also processed unconsciously), that leads to freezing of beliefs, conservatism, and sometimes preemptive aggression. Hope, in contrast, involves mostly cognitive activity, which requires the search for new ideas and thus is based on creativity and flexibility. Because hope is based on thinking, it can be seriously impeded by the spontaneous and unconscious interference of fear. Both fear and hope can become collective emotional orientations that organize society's views and direct its forms of action. It is assumed that societies involved in intractable conflict are dominated by a collective emotional orientation of fear, which is functional in their coping with the stressful and demanding situation. But such an orientation serves as a psychological obstacle to a peace process once it starts. The Israeli Jewish case of collective fear orientation is offered as an example. The presentation includes the roots of this orientation, the ways in which it is reflected and disseminated, and its expressions among the Israeli Jewish public; it ends optimistically with the suggestion that societies can determine to overcome their fear and establish a collective orientation of hope for peace.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-627
Number of pages27
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2001


  • Arab-Israeli conflict
  • Emotions
  • Fear
  • Hope
  • Intractable conflict


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