In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Peace Psychology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Definitions
  • Handbooks and Textbooks
  • Reference Works and Journals
  • Multidisciplinary Foundations
  • Research Methods
  • Humanitarian Issues, Ethics, and Social Responsibility

Psychology Peace Psychology
Daniel J. Christie, Noraini M. Noor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0134


Since the inception of modern psychology, psychologists have distinguished between thoughts and actions. Similarly, peace psychologists distinguish sharply between conflicts and violence which they equate with thoughts and actions, respectively. Conflict (between individuals or groups) is often defined as the perception of incompatible goals, whether real or imagined, while violence refers to coercive actions that are intentionally carried out with the intent of harming others. Therefore, in peace psychology, the sources and consequences of conflict are often treated separately from violence. In addition, peace psychologists distinguish two general types of violence: episodic and structural. An episode of violence is a discrete, observable event that is aimed at inflicting physical harm on an individual or group. The episode may occur once or repeatedly. While episodes may be dramatic and deadly, structural violence is insidious and normalized in societies; structural violence is “just the way things are.” Structural violence kills people just as surely as violent episodes, but structural violence kills slowly and curtails life-spans through the deprivation of human rights and basic human needs. For example, if there is enough food in the world for everyone, yet some people die of starvation because of the way in which food is distributed, then structural violence is taking place. Structural violence is supported and justified by the dominant narratives of a society; put another way, structural violence is supported by cultural violence, the latter of which refers to the symbolic sphere of human existence. In regard to peace, negative peace interventions are designed to prevent and mitigate violent episodes, while positive peace interventions are aimed at the reduction of structural violence. To elaborate: Negative peace interventions can be tailored to various phases of a violent episode: (a) conflict phase that precedes the violent episode, (b) violent episode phase, or (c) postviolence phase. In contrast, structural and cultural violence cannot be prevented because all societies have some degree of ongoing structural and cultural violence. Positive peace interventions involve social and cultural transformations that reduce structural and cultural violence and promote a more equitable social order that meets the basic needs and rights of all people. Peace psychology therefore deals with the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions of individuals and groups that are involved in violent episodes as well as the prevention and mitigation of violent episodes. Peace psychology also deals with thoughts, feelings, and actions that (re)produce social injustices as well as socially just arrangements between individuals and groups. Sustainable peace requires continuing efforts to craft facilitative synergies between nonviolent means and social just ends, that is, the pursuit of negative and positive peace.

General Overviews and Definitions

Taken together, the articles in this section provide an overview of the key concepts, themes, and frameworks used to define the academic domain occupied by peace psychology. Christie, et al. 2001 suggests a 2 × 2 matrix can capture the domain of peace psychology, thereby delineating four areas of interest: direct violence, structural violence, direct peace (peacemaking), and structural peace (peacebuilding). Vollhardt and Bilali 2008 identifies the overlap of concepts at the intersection of peace psychology and social psychology. The authors refer to research at the intersection as “social psychological peace research.” Cohrs and Boehnke 2008 also examines social psychological constructs in peace psychology and build on the notion of positive and negative peace. The authors offer examples of social psychological constructs that form obstacles to negative peace and positive peace. In addition, they cite constructs that can be regarded as facilitators of positive and negative peace. Christie, et al. 2008 illustrates how psychological research and practice can promote negative peace by tailoring interventions to each phase of a cycle of violence: conflict phase, violent phase, and postviolent phase. Christie 2006 provides an overview of a number of peace psychology articles and suggests post–Cold War peace psychology, as represented in the articles, is global in scope, nuanced by geohistorical contexts, distinguishes between positive and negative forms of peace, and pursues a systemic approach that integrates positive and negative peace.

  • Christie, D. J. 2006. What is peace psychology the psychology of? Journal of Social Issues 62.1: 1–17.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2006.00436.x

    Reviews the current status of peace psychology noting its global reach, focus on the prevention and mitigation of both episodic and structural violence, and sensitivity to geohistorical context. An overview is provided of subsequent articles that examine systemic violence or the interplay of episodic and structural violence as well as systemic peacebuilding, which is aimed at the nonviolent pursuit of social justice in various geohistorical contexts. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Christie, D. J., B. Tint, R. V. Wagner, and D. D. Winter. 2008. Peace psychology for a peaceful world. American Psychologist 63.6: 540–552.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.6.540

    The history and worldwide scope of peace psychology is reviewed. A model for organizing the literature in peace psychology is proposed. Relationships between positive and negative peace, structural and episodic violence, peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding are discussed. Implications for theory and research in psychology are advanced. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Christie, D. J., R. V. Wagner, and D. D. Winter. 2001. Introduction to peace psychology. In Peace, conflict, and violence: Peace psychology for the 21st century. Edited by D. J. Christie, R. V. Wagner, and D. D. Winter, 1–13. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    A history of peace psychology is presented followed by a description of current research and practice in peace psychology that conforms to a 2 × 2 matrix: structural and direct crossed with violence and peace. An overview of topics in peace psychology is presented, which corresponds to the chapters that follow.

  • Cohrs, J. C., and K. Boehnke. 2008. Social psychology and peace: An introductory overview. Social Psychology 39:4–11.

    DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335.39.1.4

    Negative (absence of violence) and positive (pursuit of social justice) peace are crossed with social psychological obstacles and catalysts, forming a 2 × 2 matrix. Exemplars include support for military intervention versus antiwar activism as obstacle versus catalyst for negative peace, respectively, and ideologies legitimating social inequalities versus support for human rights as obstacle versus catalyst for positive peace, respectively. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Vollhardt, J. K., and R. Bilali. 2008. Social psychology’s contribution to the psychological study of peace: A review. Social Psychology 39:12–25.

    DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335.39.1.12

    The conceptual and methodological overlap between social psychology and peace psychology (the psychological study of peace) is delineated. The overlap is characterized as contextualized, focused on multiple levels of analysis, value-explicit, and practically oriented. The results of a content analysis of peace research in high-impact social psychological journals are discussed. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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