Indicators, Predictors, and Determinants of Conflict Escalation and De-escalation – A Review of the Psychological Literature

Indicateurs, prédicateurs et déterminants de l’escalade et de l’atténuation des conflits – Revue de la littérature psychologique


  1. Peter Suedfeld
  2. Ryan W. Cross
  3. Michael Stewart
Corporate Authors
Defence R&D Canada - Toronto, Toronto ONT (CAN);British Columbia Univ, Vancouver BC (CAN) Dept of Psychology
This paper reviews psychological theories and quantitative research aimed at the explanation and prediction of decision-making by national and sub-national leaders. Inferences of the strategic intentions of leaders are based on the “assessment at a distance” of both their stable and changing cognitive, motivational, and emotional processes. The review evaluates profiling approaches, which develop a portrait of the subject’s personality as the source of strategic predispositions, and dynamic approaches, which measure selected psychological variables activated in particular situations at specific times. Both approaches identify psychological factors correlated with tendencies toward competitive vs. cooperative behaviour in conflict situations; the dynamic approach in particular can be used to monitor real-time changes that forecast the direction of the leader’s decision-making. The outbreak of war, including surprise attacks, is reliably associated with reduced complexity in the structure of information processing, increased power motivation as compared to affiliation motivation, and the leader’s self-perceived ability to successfully affect large-scale events. Recent research has begun to apply these approaches to the study of terrorism. The review evaluates the methodological problems of each approach and makes suggestions as to ways of improving the clarity, precision, and predictive power of these methods.

Il y a un résumé en français ici.

Adversarial intent;Forecasting;Indicators;Conflict;Leaders;Psychology
Report Number
DRDC-TORONTO-CR-2009-072 — Contractor Report
Date of publication
01 May 2009
Number of Pages
Electronic Document(PDF)

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