Types of Conflict Theories

Biological theories place a premium on biological variables or inborn human characteristics. Inter-personal and inter-group violence is thought to be caused by biologically defined variables. The biological theories are primarily concerned with aggression. Aggression is thought to be genetically programmed in the human neural system. The Instinct Theory, Darwinism and Social Darwinism, Ethology, and Socio-biology all have different biological perspectives on human violence. Nevertheless, these points of view have been heavily criticized.

Certain psychological traditions also emphasize frustration, which can lead to aggressiveness. Psychoanalysts believe that unfulfilled psychological needs can lead to violence through instinctual impulses. On the other hand, some attribute violence to intra-personal conflicts and other mental elements. According to motivational theories, the source of aggression is blocked frustration energy produced in various social and psychological contexts. Because aggression is a reaction to external stimuli, the social environment activates an internal physiological mechanism. The socio-psychological viewpoint is also concerned with group formation and differentiation processes. Groups aim to distinguish themselves from others, and (mis)perceptions, stereotyping, and dehumanization play a role in this process, leading to violent conflict.

Biological Theories

It includes −

Instinct Theory

It contends that violent behavior stems from human inclination. Human violence and destructive behavior are motivated by instinctive impulses. This is seen in the primal desire to battle and dominate.

Darwinism and Social Darwinism

In his Origin of Species, Charles Darwin introduced the concept of "survival of the fittest," which states that only the fittest people who successfully adapt to the specific environment in which they exist will survive. This is biological evolution, but it happens slowly and gradually. The notion of survival of the fittest has been used to justify hierarchical and graded relationships between distinct classes. Conflict is explained by social Darwinism in terms of natural selection - the survival of the fittest and the inherent hostility in humans. It emphasizes the importance of rivalry and conflict in human society. Social Darwinists exploited the concept of "stages of development" to justify imperialist conquests and wars. Darwin's ideas have been criticized because he was unaware of the role mutations or biological processes of changes occurring in genetic material played.


Ethology is the study of animal behavior in its natural environment. It investigates the behavior patterns of various species. By comparing and deducing commonalities between human and natural animal behavior, ethology and evolutionary history have derived conclusions concerning the instinctual impulse. Ethologists argue that distinct species' behavior patterns have a significant genetic basis. All species, including humans, result from an evolutionary process in which a mix of mutational causes and natural selection decides survival fitness. In his book On Aggression, Konrad Lorenz claims that human violence results from an inclination for aggression. This hostility in humans is shared by most other animals and has evolved as a result of helping them survive over time. According to Freud, humans may have inherited aggressive tendencies from many previous generations through natural selection.


Socio-biology is a branch of biology that studies the social organization of animals. Sociobiologists believe that animals, including humans, may have genetically inherited aggressive social behavior inclinations. Whereas sociobiologists believe that genes mainly determine animal hostility, they emphasize that it differs between species and different kinds of social organization. Aggression comes in many forms, including predatory aggressiveness, fear-induced aggression, and irritable aggression, each with its biological basis. Aggression is less prevalent in humans than in other animals. Also, cultural learning has a more significant influence on human violence. When populations of a species are concentrated, there is likely to be more hostility than when populations are spread out. Before coming into contact with Western culture, for example, dispersed populations such as the Eskimos of North America and the Aborigines of Australia were less active in violence and conflict.

Criticisms of Biological and Socio-Biological Theories

The biological underpinnings of human hostility have been heavily criticized. According to anthropologists and sociologists, human behavior or instinct cannot be traced back to biological beginnings. It is a byproduct of human culture, formed by human communities and transmitted through social learning. While Freud believed that violence was innate in people, he also believed that it grew in people through interactions with others, particularly parents. As a result, the psychoanalytic theory emphasizes the importance of early socialization events in shaping human personality.

According to Social Learning Theories, aggression is a result of social learning rather than genetics. Conditioning, on the other hand, is required for learning. The cues accessible in a given scenario are most likely to condition our reaction; for example, if a gun is close, one is more likely to use it if one's life or property is threatened. Also, if violent behavior is rewarded, it will likely be repeated. On the contrary, if it is penalized, it is unlikely to happen again. According to observational learning theory, we learn from others by seeing their actions. Language is another way we learn. According to John Burton, if innate human aggression is the basis of all disputes, we must accept it. It is, at most, controllable. Conflict resolution, that is, identifying the roots of the problem and attempting to resolve them, is irrelevant in this scenario because the source cannot be changed or reformed at all.

Psychological Theories

Important psychological theories are −

Freudian Interpretation and Psychoanalysis

According to motivational theories, the source of aggression is blocked frustration energy produced in various social and psychological contexts. Because aggression is a reaction to an external stimulus, the social environment activates an internal physiological mechanism. The socio-psychological viewpoint is also concerned with group formation and differentiation processes. Groups aim to distinguish themselves from others, and (mis)perceptions, stereotyping, and dehumanization play a role in this process, leading to violent conflict. Sigmund Freud, a psychiatrist, ascribed the origins of the conflict to rebellious human nature. He said that aggressiveness is innate in humans 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 hatred.

The foundations of aggression, according to Freud, are in the death instinct. He argued that war is the result of a destructive instinct - an instinct aimed at returning things to their inanimate form that can operate inside and outside the body. 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 destructive behavior against oneself and toward others and the world. The human drive to destroy oneself is directed outward, to destroy others to maintain oneself.

Nevertheless, for Freud, violence is merely a means to an end; it is not an end. Aggressive behavior 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 Tajfel developed the Social Identity Theory to answer why people prefer their group over others. According to Tajfel, groups occupy several levels on the power and status ladder. The process of discriminating between "us" and "them" alters how people interact with one another. Tajfel argued that the driving force behind this behavior was people's desire for a solid and stable self-concept - a positive social identity. As a result, people primarily regard their group as positive. Nevertheless, groupings only become psychological realities when defined concerning other groups. As a result, group members aim for a positive social identity and try to attain it by favorably distinguishing their group from other groups.

Tajfel also addressed the issue of what happens to marginalized groups in comparison to others. Such a group could choose to leave the group, either physically or psychologically; focus only on features that make one's group look good; compare one's group to other groups that are even lower on the status hierarchy; devalue the aspects that reflect poorly on one's group; and attempt to change the existing status hierarchy through social change. Nevertheless, which of these possibilities is chosen will be determined by various factors.

The Seville Statement on Violence

The Seville Declaration on Violence was drafted in 1986 to coincide with the United Nations-sponsored International Year of Peace. A group of foreign experts involved in the Seville Declaration 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 behavior over other types of behavior during human evolution.

  • The claim that humans have violent brains is scientifically false.

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

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


In peace and conflict studies, there are various hypotheses for the causes of conflict. Several theories describe these in greater detail. One school of thought holds that the fundamental reasons and sources of conflict are found in humans or human nature. The nature part concentrates on biological and psychological aspects.

Updated on: 13-Mar-2023


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