Discussion 16: Neurobiology and Conflict

These questions relate both to Guy's video on Social and Psychological Complexity and Heidi's two videos summarizing Mari Fitzduff's monograph entitled Introduction to Neuroscience for the Peacebuilder. (Part 1 and Part 2.) 

Mari ends her mongraph with ten questions that boil down to "now what?!"  We have a slightly more elaborate version of that basic question, but still less daunting than ten questions, below.

  • What can and should peacebuilders do about the cognitive biases and predispositions described in these three videos?  Particularly,
    • how do we address people's emotional needs as well as their rational interests and needs in our peacebuilding work? And,
    • how can we work within the constraints of non-rational/emotional thinking, rather than engage in a futile effort to convert all thinking to the rational approach?

(If you are so, inclined, we welcome you to address any of Mari's questions instead or as well:  (All of these come from Mari Fitzduff, An Introduction to Neuroscience for the Peacebuilder. 2015.  https://www.academia.edu/10234805/An_Introduction_to_Neuroscience_for_the_Peacebuilder. p. 22.)

1.How comfortable are we at accepting the limitations of a “rational’ approach to peacebuilding?  What are the consequences for our work of acknowledging the primary importance of feelings in conflict contexts?

2.If people have brains that are predisposed differently towards outgroups and new ideas, how do we develop strategies that take account of this in our work?

3.How do we work with groups who are passionately committed to only their own group vision of faith or social ideology? 

4.How do we avoid getting caught up in arguments about the ‘truth’ or ‘facts’ as believed by particular groups?  How can we better understand and respond to what is often behind such arguments?

5.How can we ‘nudge’ our societies into their best inclusive behaviors? How can we decrease our tendencies to fear “the other”?

6.What kind of peace agreements can best deliver on feelings of equity and inclusion, as well as ensuring the quantifiable reality of such agreements on issues of land, rights, participation, etc.

7.How do we change our peacebuilding work so that our strategies can take account of the frailty of our inherited human nature that tends towards fear and exclusion of others – as well as our human capacities for cooperation, altruism and courage?

8.How can we help to create/choose/assist leaders who foster community and structural inclusion rather than divisions?  How can we increase the power of such leaders with their constituents?

9.How would we describe our own predispositons along a conservative/liberal continuum?  Do we have moral feelings of superiority about our particular places on that continuum?  Do we appreciate the need for society to have people at both ends of the continuum?

10.How can we pitch/target our messages and campaigns to different audiences in full awareness of their differing neural dispositions?  How do we frame message about our work so that they appeal to the whole brain, and not just the rational part of it?