Print This Page

The Dynamics of Conflict: Frequently Asked Questions

Robin R. Vallacher
Florida Atlantic University

Andrzej Nowak
Warsaw University

Peter T. Coleman
Columbia University

Lan Bui-Wrzosinska
Warsaw School for Social Psychology

Andrea Bartoli
Columbia University

Larry S. Liebovitch
Florida Atlantic University

 

The essentials of dynamical social psychology:
Frequently Asked Questions

The frequently asked questions (FAQs) presented here were written to highlight the essential points of the dynamical perspective on social experience, with an eye toward the implications of this perspective for the understanding and potential resolution of intractable conflict. We wish to emphasize that this particular perspective represents an adaptation of basic principles and methods of dynamical systems and complexity science to social psychology developed by Vallacher and Nowak. Accordingly, we list below some basic readings we have published that describe various features of this perspective and its empirical base. These readings provide the basis for the FAQs and thus are recommended for readers who wish to go beyond the short answers we have provided to these questions.

01. Aren’t social psychological processes inherently dynamic? Why do we need dynamical social psychology?
02. How is dynamical systems theory different from general systems theory?
03. How is dynamical systems theory different from catastrophe theory?
04. Is dynamical systems theory the same as chaos theory?
05. What exactly does `non-linear` mean?
06. If all the elements in a dynamical system influence each other and the state of the system, how can one possibly limit the scope of an investigation to just a few variables?
07. How does a control parameter differ from any other external influence on a system’s behavior?
08. How can one identify a system’s control parameters?
09. How does emergence take place in a dynamical system?
10. Can the nature of an emergent property be predicted?
11. How does an attractor differ from more familiar notions, such as “schema,” “goal,” “attitude,” “habit,” or “disposition”?
12. If a system moves between two (or more) different states over time, how can one tell whether this signifies the presence of two (or more) fixed-point attractors or one periodic (or quasi-periodic) attractor?
13. What is chaos?
14. How can one distinguish chaos from randomness in a system’s behavior?
15. How are attractors formed?
16. What are the basic properties of an attractor?
17. How are attractors changed?
18. What is a latent attractor?
19. How can one purport to characterize very different processes in terms of the same principles, yet provide deep insight into each process?
20. What is the role of causation in dynamical social psychology?

 

Dynamical social psychology: Primary sources

 

Books:

  • Vallacher, R. R. & Nowak, A. (Eds.) (1994). Dynamical systems in social psychology. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Nowak, A. & Vallacher, R. R. (1998). Dynamical social psychology. New York: Guilford Press. 
  • Vallacher, R. R., Read, S. J., & Nowak, A. (Eds.) (2002). The dynamical perspective in social psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6 (special issue).

 

Chapters:

  • Nowak, A. & Lewenstein, M. (1994). Dynamical systems: A tool for social psychology? In Vallacher, R. R. & Nowak, A. (Eds.), Dynamical systems in social psychology (pp. 17-53). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Nowak, A., Vallacher, R. R., & Lewenstein, M. (1994). Toward a dynamical social psychology. In Vallacher, R. R. & Nowak, A. (Eds.), Dynamical systems in social psychology (pp. 279-293). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Nowak, A. & Vallacher, R. R. (1998). Toward computational social psychology: Cellular automata and neural network models of interpersonal dynamics. In S. J. Read & L. C. Miller (Eds.), Connectionist models of social reasoning and social behavior (pp. 277-311). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 
  • Vallacher, R. R. & Nowak, A. (1999). The dynamics of self-regulation. In R. S. Wyer, Jr. (Ed.), Advances in social cognition (Vol. 12, pp. 241-259). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Vallacher, R. R. & Nowak, A. (2006). Coherence in human experience and psychological science. In P. Van Lange (Ed.), Bridging social psychology: The benefits of transdisciplinary approaches (pp. 77-82). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Vallacher, R. R. & Nowak, A. (2007). Dynamical social psychology: Finding order in the flow of human experience. In A. W. Kruglanski & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (2nd ed., pp. 734-758). New York: Guilford Publications.

 

Journal Articles:

  • Nowak, A., Szamrej, J., & Latané, B. (1990). From private attitude to public opinion: A dynamic theory of social impact. Psychological Review, 97, 362-376. 
  • Vallacher, R. R., Nowak, A., & Kaufman, J. (1994). Intrinsic dynamics of social judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 20-34.
  • Vallacher, R. R. & Nowak, A. (1997). The emergence of dynamical social psychology. Psychological Inquiry, 4, 73-99.
  • Nowak, A., Vallacher, R. R., Tesser, A., & Borkowski, W. (2000). Society of self: The emergence of collective properties in self-structure. Psychological Review, 107, 39-61.
  • Vallacher, R. R., Read, S. J., & Nowak, A. (2002). The dynamical perspective in personality and social psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, 264-273.  
  • Johnson, S. L. & Nowak, A. (2002). Dynamical patterns in bipolar depression. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 6, 380-387.
  • Nowak, A. (2004). Dynamical minimalism: Why less is more in psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8¸183-192.

 

The dynamical perspective on conflict: Frequently Asked Questions

Strictly speaking, the questions presented here do not qualify yet as FAQs, but we anticipate that they will do so in the near future as scholars and practitioners become interested in the relevance of the dynamical perspective for the understanding and possible resolution of conflict. Among those who have just read the first set of FAQs, the following questions may already qualify as personal FAQs regarding this approach to conflict. Keep in mind that the dynamical perspective we have developed represents the particular adaptation of dynamical systems and complexity science developed by Vallacher and Nowak. Thus, the implications of this perspective for the scientific study of conflict is in its nascent stage, with many principles and possible modes of conflict resolution yet to be articulated, let alone investigated empirically, by the members of the Dynamical Conflict team (Coleman, Nowak, Vallacher, Bui-Wrozinska, Liebovitch, Bartoli). For this reason, we feel it is premature to provide authoritative answers to these questions in this forum. 

We do, however, provide four primary sources describing this perspective and its empirical base. These readings provide the basis for the FAQs and are recommended for those who wish to consider possible answers to these questions. In fact, we encourage you to do so. 

 
 

 FAQs: The Dynamical perspective on conflict

 
  1. What do attractors represent in the dynamical account of conflict?
  2. At what level of social reality do attractors of conflict exist?
  3. How can one identify the attractors in an intractable conflict?
  4. How are attractors of conflict created?
  5. How are attractors of conflict maintained in the face of multiple and intense sources of external influence?
  6. What is a latent attractor of conflict?
  7. What determines whether a latent attractor will become a manifest attractor?
  8. What is the difference between positive and negative feedback in the dynamical account of conflict?
  9. In view of the multiple factors relevant to intractable conflict, how can one distinguish between those that are critical and those that are not?
  10. What transforms a benign conflict into a malignant conflict?
  11. How can an intractable conflict be distinguished from a long-term conflict?
  12. If conflict is undesirable and destructive to all parties concerned, why is it maintained?
  13. What is the dynamical scenario for the resolution of intractable conflict?
  14. How is “power” incorporated into the dynamical account of conflict?
  15. How is “justice” incorporated into the dynamical account of conflict?
  16. How does the dynamical account of conflict explain malignant social relations among parties with equal power and access to resources?
  17. How does the dynamical account of conflict explain peaceful relations among parties with unequal power and access to resources?
  18. What is the role of emotion in configuring the dynamics of conflict?
  19. What is the role of religion in the origin, maintenance, and resolution of conflict?
  20. When is external influence likely to change the dynamics of an intractable conflict?

 

These questions are being provided to stimulate your thinking about the implications of dynamical systems theory for understanding intractable conflict. Please look them over and come to the meeting with your own thinking on these questions, and/or new questions of your own.

Prepared for annual meeting of International Association of Conflict Management, Budapest, Hungary (July, 2007).

 

Dynamical social psychology and conflict: Primary sources

 
Chapters
  • Coleman, P. T., Bui-Wrzosinska, L., Vallacher, R. R., & Nowak, A. (2006). Protracted conflicts as dynamical systems. In A. K. Schneider & C. Honeyman (Eds.), The negotiator’s fieldbook: The desk reference for the experienced negotiator (pp. 61-74). Chicago: American Bar Association Books.
  • Nowak, A., Vallacher, R. R., Bui-Wrzosinska, L., & Coleman, P. T. (2007). Attracted to conflict: A dynamical perspective on malignant social relations. In A. Golec & K. Skarzynska (Eds.), Understanding social change: Political psychology in Poland. Haauppague, NY: Nova Science Publishers Ltd. 

 

Journal Article
  • Coleman, P. T., Vallacher, R. R., Nowak, A., & Bui-Wrzosinska, L. (2007). Intractable conflict as an attractor: Presenting a model of conflict, escalation, and intractability. American Behavioral Scientist.
  • Coleman, P. T. (2006) Conflict, complexity, and change: A meta-framework for addressing protracted, intractable conflicts - III. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 12(4).