How can Applied Psychology help make societies more peaceful?

There is tremendous scope within the field of applied psychology in making societies more peaceful. As Ian Harris’ insightful article titled Peace Education in a Violent Culture clearly illustrates, increasing rates of crime and violence in urban societies can be moderated through the dispensation of Peace Education in schools. As the recent campus shootout in Virginia Tech shows, American youth exhibit violence due to the value and legitimacy assigned to it by media and entertainment industries. It is in response to this that many campuses are including ‘peace studies’ as an integral part of curricula.

According to Peace Theory, there are three approaches to peace – peace through strength, peacemaking, and peace-building. “Peace through strength relies on force and threats of force to deter violence or punish aggressors. Peacemaking uses communication skills to resolve conflicts, while peace-building promotes a nonviolent approach to the problem of violence.” (Harris, 2007, p.350) Each of these approaches has great potential in mitigating instances of violence in the world. Educating young people about alternative/non-violent ways of conflict resolution, avoidance of drugs and early sex, as well as teaching them forgiveness education are all part of Peace Education.

Daniel Christie’s article for the Journal of Social Issues is another testimony to the utility of psychology in reducing violence in society. Peace Psychology, having first emerged in the wake of the Cold War is now being fine-tuned to apply to emerging realities. Peace Psychology focuses on two key factors behind violence: 1. patterns of behavior and cognition involved in the violent act and 2. structural and institutional arrangements that indirectly contribute to violence. In other words, “the focal concerns of peace psychologists are nuanced by geo-historical contexts and the distinction between episodic violence and structural violence, the latter of which also kills people, albeit slowly through the deprivation of basic need satisfaction”. (Christie, 2006, p.1) The task of Peace Psychologists then is to ameliorate violence-inducing social structures into agreeable, peace-promoting ones.

The smallest of these structures is the family, and Lenore E. Walker’s article for the American Psychologist offers insights and remedial applications of Peace Psychology for this domain. Walker notes that although geo-political realities determine the level of support available to battered women, emotionally and physically abused children, etc, “it is the interaction among gender, political structure, religious beliefs, attitudes toward violence in general, and violence toward women, as well as state-sponsored violence, such as civil conflicts and wars, and the migration within and between countries that ultimately determine women’s vulnerability and safety.” (Walker, 1999, p.21) Hence, Walker suggests a broad-based approach to reduction of domestic violence.
Hence, on the whole, psychology has a great deal to offer to peace promotion across the world. The only possible danger is in taking theories too rigidly so that their application does not synchronize with local sensibilities and norms. In other words, Peace Psychology can fetch great benefits to humankind, if its practitioners would customize and fine-tune the theories mentioned above to the cultural, political and economic environment of its application.

Works Cited:

Harris, Ian, Peace Education in a Violent Culture, Harvard Educational Review; Fall 2007; 77, 3; Research Library Core, pg. 350.

Christie, Daniel J., What is Peace Psychology the Psychology of?, Journal of Social Issues, Vol.62, No.1, 2006, p.1-17.

Walker, Lenore E., Psychology and Domestic Violence Around the World, American Psychologist, January, 1999, Vol. 54, No. 1, p.21-29.