Mental Models in the Visualization of Conflict Escalation and Entrapment: Biases and Alternatives
19 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2011
Date Written: June 25, 2011
This paper deals with the ways of visualizing the process of conflict escalation, settlement, and resolution. It starts with a discussion of mental models, i.e. small-scale subjective representations of reality that constitute a platform for action and decision-making. It is explained how the mental models assumed by stakeholders and interveners in conflict may influence its course and its further transformation. Then, a few traditional ways of visualizing conflict dynamics are assessed. What they have in common is the fact that they illustrate conflict as a curve which goes up as conflict escalates and goes down as it is resolved. It is concluded that a static, two- dimensional image does not represent some central properties of a dynamic process. The authors suggest an alternative model in which the curve is reversed. As a result, conflict can be described as falling down or being entrapped in a situation without easy escape. This is a more adequate illustration of important dynamic aspects of conflict: it is more difficult to get out of conflict than to get into one; once conflict has started, there are forces preventing it from resolution; conflict escalation narrows down the perspective and the possible movements of the parties involved. Such an alternative visualization of conflict progression and resolution may have important influence on expectations, strategies, and management of conflict, as it provides a shared mental model that can adequately represent the dynamics and driving forces of conflict and be a platform for informed action. Attractor Software is an example of visualization software that contributes to the establishment of such a mental model.
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