Peace Psychology: History, Four-fold Models, Conflict resolution

Synopsis: Peace psychology emerged in the latter half of the 20th century, calling for a discipline that observed the dynamics of peace, war, violence, and non-violence in society. Apart from observing the manifestations of peace and war, peace psychologists concern themselves with constructing models of conflict resolution at macro and micro levels. This article looks into the aforementioned topics and muses on the media’s role in conflict resolution today.

History and Origin of Peace Psychology

Peace psychology came of age in the latter half of the 20th century and is understood most clearly when situated in the context of World Wars I & II as well as the Cold War. Peace psychology began to take root after the end of the cold war, its goal to “increase and apply psychological knowledge in the pursuit of peace . . . [including] both the absence of destructive conflict and the creation of positive social conditions which minimize destructiveness and promote human well-being (Christie, 2008). ”

what is peace psychology?

Psychologists have been occupied with the nuances of war and peace, violence and non-violence since its inception. One of the earliest psychologists, William James, who has since been referred to as the first peace psychologist, shed light on some of these nuances, namely the psychological dimensions of war, blind nationalism, imperialism and war fever, state-sanctioned violence, and public support of hostility. Peace as a concept was originally a part of religious discourse, a virtue discussed along with compassion, empathy, and nonviolence. The conversation around peace expanded beyond religion and into education, philosophy, and most recently, psychology.

‘Peace psychology’ as a theory and practice began to emerge into psycho-social discourse during the major wars of the 20th century. Psychology was still a burgeoning science and psychologists belonging to various sub-fields were actively involved behind the scenes of these wars. Clinical psychologists, social psychologists, Industrial/Organizational psychologists, and Experimental psychologists played important roles in these wars, from developing and administering tests for recruiting and placing military personnel to measuring human behaviours in order to design propaganda to induce nationalistic and pro-war sentiments. Psychologists worked with the Office of Strategic Services which evolved into the Central Intelligence Agency, while the American Psychological Association (APA) began to probe the effects of threats of atomic warfare as well as the potential psychological effects on populations experiencing atomic bombardment. The predominant psychological concern was citizens’ attitudes toward atomic warfare and energy. Social psychologists “emphasized the need to accurately assess and control public opinion in order to achieve public consensus regarding foreign relations and atomic war” (Morawski & Goldstein, 1985, p. 278)

Dissent began to emerge within the psychological establishment with Gordon Allport, Hadley Cantril, and Otto Klineberg began to push for peace, arguing that the atmosphere of the era of nuclear warfare called a new form of diplomacy and the abolition of war. Publications emerged to push for peace with ‘Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology’ appearing in 1995. Peace psychologists began to revisit the notion of ‘Realpolitik’: the belief that politics is reducible to three basic goals: keeping power, increasing power, and demonstrating power (Morganthau, 1972), which was theorized in 1972, in order to analyse power dynamics behind violence and non-violence, war and peace.

Psychology during the Cold War was characterized by the preoccupation with the threat of nuclear war the psychological repercussions of the same. The post–Cold War era, however, saw the emergence of complex patterns that intersect one another; national boundaries began to blur and discriminatory lines of ethnicity, race, religion and class began to emerge more clearly, providing a new space of conflict and crisis. These problems existing within national boundaries prompted the need to revise and enlarge the scope of peace psychology. A culmination of ideas and theories that lie at the intersection of cross-cultural psychology, positive psychology, and social psychology, Peace psychology draws from the observations made in neighbouring fields of psychology, applying them to analyses of peace, war, conflict, violence, and non-violence. Aimed to prevent and mitigate direct and structural violence, promoting conflict resolution and the pursuit of socially just ends, peace psychology centres around a four-fold model that focuses on the nuances of (i) Direct Violence, (ii)Structural Violence, (iii) Peace-Making and (iv) Peace building.

Four-fold Model adopted by Peace Psychologists:

1. Direct violence is an episodic and acute manifestation of violence. It is the overt harm meted out to people, killing/ injuring the physical being instantly and dramatically, for example police killing people of colour in the United States.

2. Structural violence However represents the chronic manifestation of violence, one that threatens well-being slowly through relatively permanent social arrangements that are normalized and deprive some people of basic need satisfaction. Structural violence is endemic to economic systems that produce a concentration of wealth for some while exploiting others, hierarchical social systems that are suffused with intolerance (Christie 2008, pp. 16). The systemic issues of racism and discrimination entrenched in American society would be an example of structural violence towards communities.

Peace psychologists have observed a circular relationship between both types of violence forming an interlocking system of violence operating on various levels, manifesting in interpersonal interactions to industrial-scale violence in the form of genocide and even through cheap labour.  Systems of oppression, capitalism, hierarchical arrangements and communal contempt exacerbated by colonial policies and imperial interests have been located at the crux of all violence today, be it direct or indirect.

The overarching concepts of ‘Violence’ and ‘Non-Violence’ are also probed in their historical and socio-economic contexts. Non-Violence is particularly emphasised in peace psychology as a fascinating and effective tool in calling for change. Peace psychologists analyse large scale non-violent movements such as Gandhi’s Dandi March and the suffragette movement and their role in toppling the systems of oppression enforced by the structures of said oppression (capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy etc.) Peace Psychology is largely concerned with the nature of non-violence, as an act of simply being but also as a peaceful protest to existing threats of violence and harm. It’s theories and practice look into the values, philosophies and habits needed to build peace at micro and macro levels.

3. Peace-making, thus becomes the prevention of violent episodes by using procedures that encourage dialogue, empathy, and win/win outcomes. It calls for the advocation and encouragement of peaceful behaviours that can enhance one’s psychological well-being. These behaviours can include post-war/ post-conflict interventions that alleviate trauma, grief and other mental health issues caused as a result of violent conflict.

4. Peacebuilding, according to peace psychologists entails preventing and mitigating episodes of destructive conflict and violence and the active pursuit of social justice. Peacebuilding includes proactive behaviours such as defunding violent systemic manifestations of structural violence like the police and addressing structural inequalities that are/have been the antecedents of violent episodes and conflict (Christie, 2008).

Conflict resolution at the macro level

Conflict resolution builds off of the Peace making and peace building theories but encompasses the practice of alleviating conflict at various levels. Conflict resolution at the macro level calls for representatives, third-party inputs and larger democratic bodies such as the UN to step in and mediate the crisis. At a macro level, conflict may arise due to value differences, imperial interests and disputes on the basis of power, profit, and resource collection/ distribution. The system of stratification and the social institutions causing societies to undergo industrial, political and urban renovations creating social problems such as the political and economic exclusion of some groups, injustice, poverty, exploitation and inequality, are all examples of conflicts that are caused at the macro level and can only be effectively exterminated on the same stage.

At the national and international scales, ceasefires and collaborative discussions between representatives appear as the only two options to conflict resolution. Peace psychologists inquiring into this field lay emphasis on democratic and cooperative processes, the importance of designated peacekeeping organisations, and third parties providing neutral ground. The enquiry into conflict resolution between entities operating on a macro level, calls for resolution tactics that include collaboration, negotiation and conciliation. (Onyesom, 2015)

Role of media in conflict resolution:

The media has emerged as a powerful tool for calling for macro-level changes, advocating for conflict resolution through means of educating, informing and agitating the masses. Consequent protests and dissent expressed through the media call for representatives to utilize their platforms to demand conflict resolution between two parties. This phenomenon has been observed most clearly in the past year with a plethora of socio-political issues such as the farmer protests in India and the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S being platformed and discussed by public users on social media platform, giving voices to those who are calling for change.

The usage of media upholds the right to free speech and solidifies democratic participation. Media as a platform allows those in power to be held accountable for their actions and is a necessary tool for demanding conflict resolution and advocating peace.

Also Read: Noam Chomsky: The Five Filters of Mass Media

Peace psychology, thus, appears as a holistic understanding of violence, non-violence, conflict and peace. It digs into notions of peace as an act of well-being as well as threats to this state through systemic violence and harmful structures. The scope of peace psychology encompasses a complex cohort of issues from ethnic violence, communal contempt, patriarchal violence etc. Peace psychologists like Prof. Daniel J. Christie of Ohio State University argue that, “To root out the structural bases of  problems caused by inequitable economic structures like poverty, the refusal of the rights of peoples to self-determination and stripping away the right to bodily autonomy requires a transformation of the socioeconomic status of women worldwide, the elimination of militarism, and the elimination of disparities in wealth that divide people by ethnicity and geography. In short, problems of violence on any scale require the promotion of a system of peace that emphasizes the nonviolent management of differences combined with the pursuit of socially just ends (Christie, 2008, pp. 24).”


Christie, D. J., Tint, B. S., Wagner, R. V., & Winter, D. D. “Peace psychology for a peaceful world.” American Psychologist, vol. 63, no. 6, 2008, pp. 540-552., doi:10.1037/0003-066x.63.6.540

Christie, D. J. “What is Peace Psychology the Psychology of ?” Journal of Social Issues, vol. 62, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1-17., doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2006.00436.x

Christie, Daniel J., et al. Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology for the 21st Century. Indo American Books, 2008.

Morawski,].G., & Goldstein, S.E. (1985). Psychology and nuclear war: A chapter in our legacy of social responsibility. American Psychologist, 40, 27~284.

Morganthau, H. (1972). Politics among nations. New York: Random House.

Onyesom, Moses. “Conflict Resolution and Management: The Macro Perspective.” Journal of Investment and Management, vol. 4, no. 5, 2015, pp. 250–254., doi:10.11648/j.jim.20150405.25.

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Shivanka Gautam is a student at FLAME University, studying Psychology and Literary & Cultural studies. She has a passion for Critical theory, Cultural Affairs, Political Philosophy and Academia.