Belief rigidity as a viable target in the peaceful resolution of enduring conflict

Bianca Slocombe, Colin Wastell

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    Strategies for conflict resolution typically rest on an assumption that disputing parties consist of rational actors motivated by instrumental concerns. But the theoretical framework of the devoted actor explains that adherence to sacred values, fusion with a group, and the perception of threat interact to predict costly actions detached from the rational calculation of gain and loss. This article discusses an ongoing research program that aims to inform potential interventions in costly sacrifice at the level of belief adherence—the capacity to decrease an actor’s perceived understanding of a rigid belief may prevent or reduce his or her willingness to act violently in its name. A person’s assumption of overconfidence in his or her understanding is consistent with the tendency for human beings to feel that they understand things in greater detail than they really do. This tendency is known as the “illusion of explanatory depth.” Asking people to give a mechanistic explanation—a step-by-step, causal explanation of a phenomenon, from start to finish, with no gaps—has been demonstrated as a robust way to make people aware of the gaps in their own knowledge. This article discusses the circumstances under which completion of the task may moderate the rigidity with which potential actors adhere to a value. Results from a series of studies are presented, demonstrating preliminary evidence that belief rigidity might mediate action—moderation of the strength with which an individual holds a value or belief may moderate willingness to fight and die in its name. That is, in the peaceful resolution of conflict, ideas may be a viable target.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number6
    Number of pages19
    JournalNew England Journal of Public Policy
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2020

    Bibliographical note

    This Article is brought to you for free and open access by ScholarWorks at UMass Boston. It has been accepted for inclusion in New England Journal of Public Policy by an authorized editor of ScholarWorks at UMass Boston.


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