Conflict Resolution Strategies: the Implications of Recent Neuroscience

I will post more detail on research findings in future postings, but I thought it worth summarizing the overall implications I have deduced from my reading of recent neuroscience research for conflict:

  • We are driven by unconscious processes that distort our judgement , so in conflict:
  • How we see the world is based heavily on our mental lenses and prejudices (Chris Frith) : just read internet rants for anecdotal evidence of this
  • We tend to see the world as we are not as it is (The Torah)
  • Though obviously in some situations like driving a car, we have a pretty good take on reality or we would crash
  • We don’t surface our emotions and so are prisoners of them (Buddha)
  • But our rationality would in any event be meaningless without preferences between outcomes which emotions provide (Antonio Damasio)
  • We don’t think to be creative in conflict as we think of it as essential win-lose, zero-sum, my loss is your gain etc.
  • This explains why handling conflict is so difficult
  • We are also frequently distracted and running on auto pilot in much of our decision-making using a range of hard wired biases and heuristics that distort reality and our decisions (the late Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman: two of my heroes)
  • We need therefore to attend to:
  • The unconscious processes and their effects,
  • Our emotions and lenses for seeing the world
  • To improve performance in conflict
  • There is another key finding: how we read others in conflict is based on newly discovered ‘Mirror Neurons’ in our brains (Marco Iacoboni)
  • Mirror Neurons were identified when it was found that same motor circuits in Macaque monkeys lit up when they acted or when they simply observed others taking the same action
  • Also found in humans: allow us to mentally simulate others actions and by implication their feelings
  • Provide possibility of shared mind space and mind reading
  • Absence of effective Mirror Neuron operation may be at heart of autism or mind blindness in children
  • The author’s Mirror Neuron Cliff Theory suggests that conflict context switches off mirror neuron firing creating ‘induced autism’ that severs our emotional connection with the other side in conflict
  • This only makes the conflict worse
  • However, we need to rationally interrogate the effect of Mirror Neurons; not just react based on their output


  • Chris Frith: ‘Making Up the Mind’
  • Antoniou Damasio: ‘Descartes’ Error’
  • Marco Iacoboni: ‘Mirroring People’
  • Kahneman, D., Slovic, P., & Tversky, A. ‘Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases’

FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans, source of so much that is emerging about the brain:


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Neuro-science of conflict, PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, The Conflict Model, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Conflict Resolution Strategies: the Implications of Recent Neuroscience

  1. Nita Sandt says:

    {Great|Nice} {information|info|data} {source|supply} and an {easy|straightforward|simple} read. {I’m|I am} glad ive found your {site|website|web site} {as it|because it} {will|can} {help|facilitate}my study of NLP. The map is definately not the territory :

  2. Thanks Nita.

    I don’t know if you knew that the original for ‘the map is not the territory’ is Alfred Korzybski, though I heard it first from Gregory Bateson. It is critical to conflict work.

    I will take a fresh look at NLP.

    You might also be interested in Personal Construct Theory of G. A. Kelly see

    And a site in New Zealand that provides some application thoughts:

    I will be posting on its application to conflict some time in the future.

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