Neuroscience and Social Conflict Initiative

Advances in neuroscience promise to transform and reframe the way domestic and international conflicts are understood, approached and ultimately resolved.

Since 2011, Beyond Conflict has cultivated the nascent field of the neuroscience of social conflict by disseminating new insights from neuroscience to key audiences and partnering in efforts to directly translate and apply the findings of neuroscience research to help end existing conflicts.

To realize this vision, Beyond Conflict has partnered with the SaxeLab for Social Cognitive Neuroscience and with the Political Science department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and set out three tracks to guide its activities—Education, Research and Translation.

Education: to educate key audiences, such as funders, policymakers, leading NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations (World Bank, IMF, UN, EU, among others) about insights from cognitive science that could inform the practice of conflict resolution, reconciliation and diplomacy.

Research: to catalyze interdisciplinary research that could have practical applications for real-world leaders, funders and practitioners. In particular, to create the atmosphere and incentives that will allow for promising young scholars to devote their careers to this type of research, leading to the development of a new field known as the neuroscience of social conflict.

Translation: to put this knowledge into practice. We aim to translate insights from neuroscience into innovative, effective approaches to resolving conflict and promoting reconciliation through targeted in country initiatives with potential for high impact.

Our activities include:

  • Five international conferences at MIT’s Media Lab that brought together leading neuroscientists, social psychologists, conflict resolution practitioners, gang leaders, political scientists and others. To see an excerpt of our third conference, Norms, Narratives and Neurons, click here or listen to Rebecca Saxe talk about how neuroscience is relevant to conflict.
  • A series of public lectures at the Museum of Science Boston in partnership with the Conte Center at Harvard University.
  • Several talks on how neuroscience can help improve the conflict resolution field at Harvard’s Kelman Center Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, MIT, the Alliance for Peacebuilding, and the World Bank.

In Fall 2014, Beyond Conflict and MIT launched the first program to measure and address the cognitive roots of anti-Roma prejudice in Europe.

We have also published op-eds bringing to bear cognitive science insights on transitional justice, gun control and reconciliation.

To see a list of our working group, click here. In 2015-2016, Beyond Conflict will continue to drive forward this field, deepening our understanding of the connection between our unconscious mind and violent conflict, and using that research to build on and improve existing conflict resolution practices.