Several eyes for an eye: The impact of biased perceptions and noise on conflict escalation patterns

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Although the importance of various psychological factors to the study of conflict has been well-established, little attention has been directed at the impact of perceptual biases on conflict development. From psychophysics, we know that the relation between the intensity of physical stimuli and the perceived intensity of those stimuli is not simple and depends on the specific kind of stimulus. This work generalizes this finding by considering aggressive acts by parties in a conflict as the stimuli under consideration and also prompting to the joint impact of biased perception and noise. It uses computer simulations to model the possible impact of differential perception of the intensity of aggressive acts in the context of iterated eye-for-eye conflicts. In these kinds of conflicts, each party tries to inflict upon the opponent the same intensity she or he received. The simulations show that biased perceptions of physical aggression can be a determinant of conflict escalation, and that biases inherent in the perceptual stage may drive repeated conflicts toward stabilization, escalation, or attenuation. The discussion proposes that policymakers avoid actions that, because of perceptual and other biases, have the potential to cause conflicts to deteriorate beyond the intentions of the involved parties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-84
Number of pages8
JournalPeace and Conflict
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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