Moral Conflict and Complexity: The Dynamics of Constructive Versus Destructive Discussions Over Polarizing Issues
Posted: 25 Jun 2011
Date Written: June 25, 2011
Moral conflicts, whether over abortion, the death penalty, or the ‘right’ approach to addressing terrorism, pose serious challenges to societies worldwide. They can quickly escalate and polarize communities, and then trap people in destructive spirals of negativity, intergroup contempt and even violence. But moral conflicts need not spiral out of control, and can be managed constructively. This article sheds light on why and how. One laboratory study investigating the underlying temporal dynamics of moral conflict is presented, based on the following idea: the basic dynamics of protracted, destructive conflicts are those which have lost the complexity and balance inherent to more constructive social relations, and have collapsed into overly-simplified, coherent, self-organizing patterns which become resistant to change. The study, an experiment which induced high and low levels of integrative complexity, found relations between higher levels of emotional, cognitive and behavioral complexity and openness and more constructive moral conflict dynamics, and lower-levels of these parameters with more destructive dynamics. Results provide strong support for the main hypotheses. Implications and next steps for this research are discussed.
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