Facilitating emotional reappraisal in conflict transformation

Published date01 May 2018
Date01 May 2018
Facilitating emotional reappraisal in conflict
Victor J. Friedman | Daneilla Arieli | Oriana Aboud-Armali
Action Research Center for Social Justice, Max
Stern Yezreel Valley College, Israel
Victor J. Friedman, Action Research Center for
Social Justice, Department of Behavioral Sciences,
Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, Israel.
Email: victorf@yvc.ac.il
Today emotions are seen as an integral part of conflict
and conflict resolution. Research, mostly experimental or
simulation based, has shown that emotional appraisal
or self-regulationcan have a positive effect on conflict
transformation. Drawing on lessons learned from a case
study of conflict transformation involving Jewish and
Arab students in Israel, this paper illustrates how the
reappraisalof difficult emotions can play a central role
in creating more positive relationships. The findings sug-
gest that reflexivity is a key part of emotional reapprai-
saland proposes a number of actions that can be taken
to actively facilitate this process.
This paper looks at the role of the expression of negativeemotions in the transformation of
identity-based conflict in naturalistic settings. Over the past 20 years the role of emotion in conflict
and conflict transformation has gone from being an understudied field (Jones, 2000) to being a cen-
tral focus for theory and research (Halperin, 2014; Lindner, 2014; Maiese, 2006; Nair, 2008; Sha-
piro, 2002). This emotional turn(Gold, 2015, p. 114) or new passion for emotion(Baele,
Sterck, & Meur, 2016, p. 720) in international relations and conflict studies reflects a stepping away
from a purely rational actor model that separated emotion from cognition and viewed the former as
irrelevant or a hindrance (Lindner, 2014; Nair, 2008). Today emotions are seen as an integral part of
cognitive processes and research has shown that their effect on conflict transformation can be posi-
tive or negative depending on how they are handled (Baele et al., 2016; Bar-Tal, 2001; Behrendt &
Ben-Ari, 2012; Bodtker & Jameson, 2001; Halperin, 2014; Halperin, Pliskin, Saguy, Liberman, &
Gross, 2013; Halperin, Russell, Dweck, & Gross, 2011; Jones, 2000; Maiese, 2006; Picard & Silta-
nen, 2013; Retzingel & Scheff, 2000, Shapiro, 2002, 2010).
The vast majority of this research, however, has been carried out in either experimental studies
or simulations. Very little research has shed light on the effect of emotion on conflict transformation
in naturalistic settings. This paper takes a step to fill that gap by illustrating how the expression of
Received: 13 June 2017 Revised: 4 September 2017 Accepted: 17 September 2017
DOI: 10.1002/crq.21210
© 2017 Association for Conflict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Conflict Resolution Quarterly. 2018;35:351366. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/crq 351
emotions such as anger, fear, guilt, and despair stimulated a turning point in a conflict transforma-
tion process involving Jewish and Arab students in Israel. It will show how emotional reappraisal
(Maiese, 2006, p. 189) played a central role in changing relationships. The paper begins with a
review of the literature on the role of emotion in conflict transformation processes. It then describes
the critical incidents which illustrate the role emotional expression played in changing relationships
for the better. The discussion section analyzes these incidents in light of the literature and sets forth
a number of propositions on engaging emotional reappraisal to facilitate conflict transformation.
The international relations and conflict resolution literature has gravitated from a positivist approach
that sees emotions as objective, fixed phenomena towards a social constructionist approach that
views emotions as a matter of intersubjective interpretation (Nair, 2008). The constructionist
approach claims that there is a false dichotomy between reason and emotion, arguing that emotion
plays an important role in understanding the world (Jones, 2000; Picard & Siltanen, 2013). Jones
(2000) posited six principles of emotional experience: they are socially constructed, elicited by inter-
pretation of events, rule governed, constituted through discourse, a fundamentally moral experience,
and developed through acculturation and learning (Jones, 2000). Linder (2014) defined emotions as
comprehensive packages of meanings, behaviors, social practices, and norms that crystallize around
primordial emotions(p. 286) and at the same time being both hardwired and malleable, and adap-
tive to social and cultural influences(p. 288). These definitions are particularly important for the
mediation and transformation of conflict because they indicate that emotions, while partially instinc-
tive or automatic, are also dependent on context and subject to control.
Recently researchers have argued that emotions are both an individual and a collective experi-
ence (Baele et al., 2016; Gold, 2015; Kenworthy et al., 2016). In support of the claim that groups
have emotions, Baele et al. (2016) argued that the act of situation appraisal is influenced by a preex-
isting emotional worldview(p. 724), which they defined as an overarching cognitive framework
embedded in shared axioms and myths which group members use to interpret events (p. 724). Fur-
thermore, they argued that events trigger a complex set of emotions at varying intensities, creating
an emotional configurationexperienced at the group level (Baele et al., 2016, p. 724).
Emotions are an active component of individual and group identity because they help people to
make sense of themselves in relation to others and the world in which they live (Bleiker and Hutch-
inson, 2014; Bodtker & Jameson, 2001; Gold, 2015). They play an especially important role in
intractable, identity-based conflicts which are associated with existential needs that trigger powerful
feelings when threatened (Bodtker & Jameson, 2001; Burton, 1990; Rothman, 2012; Shapiro, 2002,
2010). Shapiro (2002, 2010) argued that the gap between the current and the desired state of rela-
tional identity concerns generates emotions that interfere with creative problem solving. Closing
these gaps can lead to emotions that nurture cooperative behavior and integrative solutions.
The literature points to a number of important roles emotions play in mediating conflict transfor-
mation processes. Emotions can be seen as the trigger of conflict (Bodtker & Jameson, 2001; Nair,
2008). According to this view, conflict is latent until parties cross a particular emotional threshold.
As triggers, emotions are also a sign that very important issues and deeply held values are at stake
and need to be addressed (Picard & Siltanen, 2013). Emotions also influence thinking, feeling, and
behavioral dynamics that increase or decrease the willingness and ability of disputants to reach
agreement or even to engage in transformation processes (Halperin, 2014; Halperin et al., 2013;
Jameson et al., 2009; Shapiro, 2010). Finally, attending to the underlying emotions of both parties

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