1.6 Applying Neuroscience to Conflict Management

We will now consider how neuroscience knowledge and research may help inform and support conflict management in different contexts. These contexts include 1) conflict resolution processes, 2) leadership and workplace conflict, 3) intergroup conflict and peacebuilding.

Neuroscience and Conflict Resolution Processes

Knowledge from neuroscience can help inform and evaluate the purpose, potential, design and principles of justice and conflict resolution processes, as well as the role and skills of conflict practitioners.

As an introduction to the topic, please watch the following Ted Talk [14:35], which discusses findings from neuroscience to increase our standing of aggression in people. The talk also discusses implications from neuroscience research for restorative justice.

We will now focus on mediation, a conflict resolution process that can be defined as a process where “a mutually exactable third party … intervenes in a conflict or dispute to assist the parties to improve their relationships, enhance communications, and use effective problem-solving and negotiation procedures to reach voluntary and mutually acceptable understandings or agreements on contested issues” (Moore, 2014, p. 20).  Learning about the principles of mediation and the roles and skills of mediators frequently forms part of education and training in conflict management. The following readings explore how neuroscience knowledge may help explore and evaluate the purpose and value of various stages of the mediation process, as well as the role and skills of the mediator.

Key Readings

Bader, E. E. (2016). The psychology and neurobiology of mediation. Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, 17, 363-392. https://www.elizabethbader.com/NeurobiologyofMediation.pdf

Weitz, D. (2011). The brains behind mediation: Reflections on neuroscience, conflict resolution and decision-making. Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, 12, 471-490. https://www.pdx.edu/center-child-family/sites/centerchildfamily.web.wdt.pdx.edu/files/2020-07/FC-the-brain-behind-mediation.pdf

Neuroscience and Management, Leadership and Workplace Conflict

Knowledge of neuroscience can also increase our understanding of how individuals and teams think, feel, and behave at work, as well as which factors may contribute to the occurrence of workplace conflict. Thereby, insights into neuroscience can inform managers, team leaders and system designers in their management, leadership and (ideally) prevention of workplace conflict management and resolution.

On this topic, please read the following readings:

Key Readings

Rock, D., & Cox, C. (2012). Scarf® in 2012: Updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. Neuroleadership Journal (4), 1-14.

Freedman, B. D. (2019). Risk factors and causes of interpersonal conflict in nursing workplaces: Understandings from neuroscience. Collegian, 26(5), 594-604. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2019.02.001


If you are interested in finding out more about the work of David Rock and the origins and details of the SCARF model, you may wish to watch the following video [2:13]:

Your Brain at Work Live | The SCARF Model: Origins, Applications, and Future

After you have read the article, you may wish to complete the SCARF assessment, which may “give you a better understanding of your relative sensitivity towards different types of social drivers in each domain of SCARF.”

Social Neuroscience and Intergroup Conflict

Knowledge from social neuroscience can increase our understanding of intergroup and social conflict, including our understanding of the sources and factors that create, perpetuate, contribute to, and escalate intergroup conflict. This knowledge may also help plan and design conflict intervention initiatives to help manage intergroup and social conflict.

To learn more about how neuroscience may be used to analyse intergroup conflict and support conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts, please read the following reading:

Key Reading

Bruneau, E. (2015). Putting neuroscience to work for peace. In E. Halperin & K. Sharvit (Eds.), The social psychology of intractable conflicts (pp. 143-155). Springer International Publishing.


As an introduction to the topic of social neuroscience, please watch the following 12-minute video:

You may also wish to watch this 1-hour video, in which Mari Fitzduff introduces her book Our brains at war to which we have referred several times throughout this chapter:

De Dreu, C. K. W., Greer, L. L., Handgraaf, M. J. J., Shalvi, S., & Van Kleef, G. A. (2012). Oxytocin modulates selection of allies in intergroup conflict. Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 279(1731), 1150-1154. https://doi.org/10.1098%2Frspb.2011.1444

Influs, M., Pratt, M., Masalha, S., Zagoory-Sharon, O., & Feldman, R. (2019). A social neuroscience approach to conflict resolution: Dialogue intervention to Israeli and Palestinian youth impacts oxytocin and empathy. Social Neuroscience, 14(4), 378-389. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2018.1479983

Another interesting reading on genetics and their relevance to conflict is:

Hatemi, P. K., & McDermott, R. (2012). The genetics of politics: Discovery, challenges, and progress. Trends in Genetics, 28(10), 525–533. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tig.2012.07.004

You may also wish to check out the website NeuroPeace.org, which focuses on research and practice in neuroscience and peacebuilding. You will find further readings about social neuroscience and intergroup conflict in the previously mentioned Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology as well as other Peace Psychology publications, including the newsletter The Peace Psychologist and the blog Dialogues with Peace and Conflict.



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Neuroscience, Psychology and Conflict Management Copyright © 2024 by Judith Rafferty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.