Week 2: Kennedy and Pronin Summary

Summary: “Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict”

In “Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict,” Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin from Princeton University argue that bias perception is a key element that instigates, and fuels conflicts.  In the article, Kennedy and Pronin discuss their notion of bias perception, conflict spiral, and possible intervention methods.

Kennedy and Pronin describe three main attributes of what their notion of bias perception entails.  The first point is that people have a bias blind spot in which people are not able to perceive their own biases.  The next point is that people have an illusion in which they believe that they are not biased because they introspect their own “thoughts, feelings, and motives” without attending to their own “behavior, naïve theories, and base rates” although they use these criteria to evaluate others.  The third key point is that people tend to see their adversaries biased especially when they face disagreement.  In case of a disagreement, one party sees no room to negotiate because this party believes the opponent is biased.  Basing on these three key elements, Kennedy and Pronin explains the initiation, development, and the possible intervention of conflicts.

For Kennedy and Pronin, people’s imputation of their contending party as biased initiates conflicts.  Moreover, this tendency further “escalates” the conflict resulting in a vicious cycle.  In order for Kennedy and Pronin to further explain the implication of bias perception, they compare traditional theories with their own.  Traditionally, a large scale conflict means international conflict, and the nuclear arms race is the most outstanding example.  In the analysis of nuclear arms race case, political scientists and historians were the main researchers, but they also noted the importance of bias perception.  During the nuclear arms race, both contending parties experienced a bias blind spot.  They all claimed that the other party was the problem.  Kennedy and Pronin explain that people had a hard time breaking the vicious cycle of negative conflict cycle although any earlier bargain would have benefitted both parties.  Kennedy and Pronin imply the bias perception was the main culprit of this “entrapment,” saying that people at that time had a “psychological” difficulty.

Kennedy and Pronin further develop their idea of a bias perception and conflict spiral by suggesting a basic conflict spiral model that contains two important features.  The first critical element of the model is that “disagreement leads to the perception that the other side is biased.”  The second component of the mode is that the causal relationship of perception of the other side as biased and competition and aggression.  Kennedy and Pronin say that the two elements recur, and form a vicious cycle.  In the study mentioned in the section, Kennedy and Pronin note that their subjects tend to become more competitive and less cooperative because the subjects appeal to administrator instead of talking with their adversaries.

In addition to explaining the function of bias perception in conflicts, Kennedy and Pronin also examine the bias perception in negotiation.  Although negotiation is an event in which concerned parties can try to resolve conflicts of interests through less hostile methods, the parties are not always willing to be cooperative.  Parties in negotiation still see others as biased, and they still try to compete.  Negotiation is still a negative spiral.

Finishing their discussion of a bias perception and its effect in conflict spiral, Kennedy and Pronin seek the intervention and prevention methods.  Since their main concern is the effect of a bias perception, they attempt to find ways to interrupt the vicious cycle created by imputation.  They present three traditional ways first.  Perspective taking is a method in which a party makes effort to understand the opponent by thinking that the opponent is not “hopelessly” biased.  In this method, the involved parties try to see others more objectively.  Although this method may be beneficial to all the parties, this method may solidify a party’s perception of the other party.  In epistemic motivation method, the researchers claim that parties try to view the opponent more objectively when they are epistemically motivated.  For a group level conflict, the researchers claim that focusing on similarities between “ingroups” and “outgroups” will reduce the differences in perspective (social grouping and similarity).  The researchers claim that subtle priming or directing of individuals so that they can see the similarities will be more effective than forcing them.

Kennedy and Pronin finally introduce their novel intervention and prevention methods.  Kennedy and Pronin believe that people’s tendency to be critical about their opponents is a main reason for a disagreement, and suggest “non-counterarguing listening” in which people try to suppress their urge to be critical about their opponents’ position.  Moreover, Kennedy and Pronin claim that people can learn to view themselves as not objective as they used to think through “introspective education.”  In addition, an intentional psychological distance is a good option.  Temporal distance is an example of psychological distance, and this refers to time difference between the present and the actual event.  According to Kennedy and Pronin, intentional manipulation of “temporal, physical, and social distance” may lessen the stress and the involved parties will be able to view the situation more objectively.

Through the psychological examination of conflicts, Kennedy and Pronin claim that a bias perception is a main element of conflicts.  Subsequently, they present a model, and some gave suggestions to reduce conflicts.


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