Peace Psychology: Theory and Practice

Contrary to popular belief, peace psychology is not a mash-up of psychological information drawn from other domains, such as social and dynamic psychology and interpersonal psychology, and then applied to Peace Studies. If that were the case, this field would attempt to make a different pattern out of the same jigsaw puzzle pieces: referring to 'Peace' would therefore be a method to establish a new sub-discipline of psychology. On the contrary, it is worth noting that the jigsaw pieces themselves are significantly distinct from the start.

What is Peace Psychology?

Peace psychology is a cross-disciplinary subject which has only recently developed both its theoretical framework and methodological practice. Therefore, peace psychology is a new discipline, not only because of the novel contents of its thematic field (conflicts, peace, etc.), at least as far as its collective dimension is concerned, but also because of the distinctive novelty of the thinking framework on which it is based. Peace psychology is an all-encompassing, multidisciplinary strategy for averting nuclear war and sustaining global tranquillity. Non-violent conflict resolution, reconciliation, the root causes of violence and war, and the promotion of healthy communication among world leaders and other prominent individuals are all part of these initiatives.

Theories in Peace Psychology

William James's 1906 address at Stanford University is the starting point for peace psychology. During the buildup to World War I, James expressed his view that fighting helps people develop admirable traits like loyalty, discipline, compliance, group cohesiveness, & duty. He also noticed that people feel more pride in themselves when they are proud of the group to which they belong, whether that group is the military or some other kind. Most importantly, he said that war is unlikely to be eradicated until a "moral equivalent of war" is formed, such as public service, which permits people to experience the qualities associated with war-making.

Numerous other philosophers and psychologists have also penned works on the psychology of peace. Some examples include Sigmund Freud, Mary Whiton Calkins, William McDougall, Charles Osgood, Ivan Pavlov, Edward Tolman, and Gordon Allport. Even Pythagoras qualifies because of his works advocating nonviolence and his recognition of the more insidious kind of violence known as structural violence (e.g., poverty).

Freudian Interpretation and Psychoanalysis − Sigmund Freud, a psychiatrist, ascribed the origins of the conflict to rebellious human nature. He argued that hostility "is innate in people and is carried out in the name of self-preservation." In a letter to Freud before the Second World War, Albert Einstein asked about the causes of the easy activation of hate. The foundations of aggression, according to Freud, are in the death instinct. "War is the result of a destructive instinct - an instinct aimed at returning things to their inanimate form and which may function both within and outside the body," he wrote. Human beings, according to Freud, have two types of instincts: the life instinct and the death instinct. The survival instinct craves pleasure. Unlike the life instinct, Freud refers to the death instinct as 'Thanet's. This death urge leads to harmful behaviour against oneself and toward others and the planet as a whole. The human drive to kill oneself is turned outward to harm others to maintain oneself. However, for Freud, violence is merely a means to a goal; it is not an end. Aggressive behaviour relieves tension. According to Psychoanalytic Theory, humans begin discriminating between the "self" and the "other" from a very young age. This distinction reveals itself in a robust psychological demand for adversaries.

Social Identity Theory − Henri Farfel developed the Social Identity Theory to solve the question of why people choose their group above others. Groups, according to Tajfel, occupy distinct levels on the power and status ladder. The process of discriminating between 'we and them' alters how individuals interact with one another. Tajfel argued that the driving force behind this behaviour was people's need for a strong and stable self-concept—a positive social identity. As a result, it may be argued that people mostly regard their group as positive. However, groupings only become psychological realities when defined concerning other groups. As a result, group members aim for an excellent social identity and attempt to attain it by favourably differentiating their group from other groups.

The Seville Statement on Violence − The Seville Statement on Violence was drafted in 1986 to coincide with the United Nations-sponsored International Year of Peace. A group of foreign experts engaged in the Seville Statement reached the following five conclusions

  • It is scientifically false to claim that we acquired a proclivity for fighting from our animal predecessors.

  • It is scientifically false to assert that war or other forms of violence are genetically encoded into our human character.

  • It is scientifically inaccurate to assert that there has been a selection for violent behaviour over other types of behaviour over the history of human development.

  • To imply that humans have a "violent brain" is scientifically false.

  • It is scientifically inaccurate to claim that conflict is generated solely by "instinct" or a single purpose

The Seville Statement was supported by a broad spectrum of scientific and professional organisations worldwide and was founded on the most recent scientific findings. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) accepted it in 1989.

Peace Psychology Premises

The earliest systematic applications of psychology to communal concerns may be traced back to Dewey and Mead's efforts to implement social changes in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. By the 1930s, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues' founding movement in the United States had opened up new avenues for applying psychological science. According to Lewin's predictions, this resulted in psychologists' engagement during and after WWII in the years that followed. Psychology returned to experimental laboratory procedures in the 1950s. However, the 1960s and 1970s crisis increased demand for applied psychology, defined as the study and involvement in the actual world to understand human behaviour and provide solutions to societal issues

While Western psychology is pretty well known, the same cannot be said about a movement that helped to set certain foundations—essential though underappreciated—or the development of a psychology of peace. We are talking about Liberation Psychology. Born in Latin America, this new approach originated from recognising how little psychology has to offer in terms of research and practice in addressing the challenges of the Latin American people. As a result, Liberation Psychology emerged as a response to the 'crisis of Western psychology' in the 1970s. It advocated a fundamental re-examination of psychology's epistemological basis through contributions to social commitment, ethical thoughts, ecological observation, and field research.

In the setting of this situation, three sorts of difficulties in Western psychology evolved, problems that are especially important in peace psychology

  • 1 A lack of social significance. Psychology has lost its ability to provide information directly related to many societal problems.

  • 2 Local knowledge supplemented by universal validity claims. Psychology relied on research based on population samples chosen in artificial circumstances while aspiring to validity outside them.

  • 3 A convergence in the direction of scientific neutrality. As a result, the ethical dimension had to be abandoned.

Recurrent Themes

It is a common belief among peace psychologists that war is something that can be prevented rather than something innate. There have been many manifestos written by psychologists that sum up these principles. After World War II, nearly 4,000 psychologists signed a single statement. The Seville Statement was made in 1986 during the United Nations International Year of Peace by 20 eminent scientists. Many studies in the field of peace psychology have looked for causal links between specific environmental factors and violent or nonviolent behaviour because war is an artificial construct.

During the Cold War (roughly the mid-1940s to the early 1990s), when tensions rose between the United States and the Soviet Union and nuclear war seemed imminent, psychologists developed concepts to understand better intergroup conflict and its resolution, giving peace psychology a significant boost.

The practice of psychology for peace has gone global. It acknowledges that violence can have cultural roots, such as when people's beliefs are exploited to justify physical or institutional abuse. People can be injured or killed swiftly and dramatically by direct violence. However, structural violence is pervasive and kills many more people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. For instance, when people go hungry despite having enough food for everyone, this is an example of structural violence caused by the distribution system.

Cultural violence occurs when someone blames the victims for their plight, as when someone tries to justify the deaths of starving people by saying that they brought it on themselves. The culturally violent idea of just war theory justifies killing civilians under specific circumstances (e.g., defence of the homeland, using war as a last resort). Particularly pertinent when safety concerns centre on the prevention of terrorism is the need for a more in-depth understanding of the structural and cultural roots of violence, which presents a significant challenge for peace psychology.

Practice in Peace Psychology

When people achieve inner peace, they have a more optimistic outlook on life and no longer feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. One way to find inner calm is to disconnect from external stimuli. One must cultivate an inward focus to achieve a state of inner serenity. Someone calm down and relax. When one is at peace with themselves, they are also at peace with the Supreme Power. Chinmoy argues that the path to inner calm lies in God-realisation, which leads to self-realisation.

Forgiving oneself is a step toward achieving inner peace. Sara Wiseman, the director of Intuition University, has provided a clear definition of inner peace: "Inner calm is not dependent on exterior events." It is a perspective, a method of seeing things that help us see ourselves for what we are: endless creatures. By strengthening our ties to the cosmos, we can find more harmony in our daily lives. Meditation, prayer, silence, and time spent in nature are all excellent options. Connecting with this lovely condition, frequency, or vibration regularly helps us advance our awareness and comprehension.


Working on peace's internal and external aspects is necessary for a peaceful existence. A calm, optimistic outlook on life and others is a powerful tool for avoiding and resolving conflict. Almost every faith teaches its adherents to find quiet inside themselves so they can develop their spirits. Spirituality and inner calm play an essential role in Indian culture, as evidenced by the words of great thinkers and doers. When people cultivate a happy and optimistic outlook on life, are grateful for what they have and are content despite their circumstances, they will find inner peace.

Updated on: 20-Feb-2023


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