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Organizer: Fry, Douglas P.
Developmental Psychology Program, Åbo Akademi, Finland.

  Symposium Abstract

The papers in this symposium illustrate some of the diverse approaches to studying the influence of cultural factors on the prevention and control of aggressive behavior.  The levels of analysis range from a focus on interpersonal aggression to the consideration of warfare. One approach represented in this symposium, usually called “cross-cultural research” within anthropology, uses the Human Relations Area Files as a source of cross-cultural data for hypotheses testing. Another method reflected in this symposium involves documenting aggression preventive and/or control mechanisms that operate within a particular cultural context. A third approach utilizes case studies or selected cultural comparisons to explore patterns and variations in the control and/or prevention of aggression.  Many of the papers include discussions of policy implications and/or practical applications related to preventing and controlling aggression, including warfare.


Ember, C.R. and Ember, M.
Human Relations Area Files at Yale University, USA.

In 1965, Beatrice B. Whiting published an article on sex identity conflict and its association with physical violence. While subsequent worldwide cross-cultural research has been equivocal regarding the "sex-identity conflict" hypothesis, we suggest that this may be because researchers have failed to pay attention to B. Whiting's contingent conditions—the amount of power men have compared with women and the degree to which aggression is considered a component of the male adult role. Using multiple regression analysis and data from a worldwide cross-cultural sample, we examine how homicide/assault rates are affected by how far away fathers sleep from children, the degree to which aggression is explicitly encouraged, and the degree of corporal punishment. Unexpectedly, degree of corporal punishment has no effect on rates of violence. The new analyses suggest opposite effects of degree to which the father is the corporal punisher versus degree to which the mother is the corporal punisher. We discuss the implications of these results for the prevention and control of aggression.



Björkqvist,  K., Österman, K. and Kaukiainen*, A
Developmental Psychology Program, Åbo Akademi University, Finland. *Psychology Department, Turku University, Finland.

Empathy training is known to reduce aggressive behavior (N. D. Feshbach, 1989). Social intelligence is likely to be a necessary component for successful conflict behavior, prosocial as well as antisocial. While empathy and social intelligence are strongly correlated, it is therefore, due to logical and consequential reasons, important to treat them as different concepts. In the present study, the relationships between peer-estimated conflict behavior, social intelligence, and empathy was studied in 203 adolescents (f = 110, m = 93; mean age 12, sd = 0.8). Instruments used: The Direct & Indirect Aggression Scales; Peer-Estimated Empathy, and Peer-Estimated Social Intelligence. As hypothesized, it was found that social intelligence was required for all types of conflict behavior, but the presence of empathy acted as a mitigator of aggression. When empathy was partialed out, correlations between social intelligence and all types of aggression increased, while correlations between social intelligence and peaceful conflict resolution decreased. Social intelligence was related differently to various forms of aggressive behavior: more strongly to indirect than to verbal aggression, and weakest to physical aggression, which is in accordance with the developmental theory of aggressive style. More sophisticated forms of aggression require more social intelligence.



Rubinstein, R.A.
Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts, and Departments of Anthropology and International Relations, Syracuse University, USA.

Conflicts involving "collapsed" systems of governance, human rights abuses, forced population transfers, "ethnic cleansing," and medical and famine emergencies are increasingly characteristic of the final years of the 20th century. Past multilateral actions depended upon peacekeeping, largely controlled by states and their militaries. The international community's response to "complex emergencies" has changed the nature and scope of such interventions. Now they additionally involve international agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and direct action by people from outside the conflict area. Many such organizations and actors seek to provide humanitarian aid, and such efforts have become the subject of intense political manipulation and violence: i.e., Red Cross workers killed in Chechnya, food convoys hijacked and used to support combatants, and medical personnel in Somalia forced to engage local militias for protection. Drawing upon ethnographic interviews and fieldwork, this paper explores how multiple layers of identity manipulated by those involved in conflict resolution efforts are reshaping the landscape of humanitarian intervention.




Smail, J.K.
Anthropology and Sociology Department, Kenyon College, USA.

In contrast to recent political, scholarly, and public misuse of the term, this paper articulates a more accurate definition of the hostage concept.  This definition is not only consistent with a broad range of etymological sources, but is also in agreement with  numerous examples from the historical and anthropological record.  A possible application of the hostage idea to mid/late-twentieth-century superpower relationships, utilizing a very different approach to the concept of deterrence, is also described.  Attention is further called to the fact that the giving of hostages as confidence-building “emissaries of trust” incorporates several attributes that might be of interest to contemporary evolutionary theorists.  A closer examination of the biological and behavioral underpinnings, the historical and anthropological precedents, and the political and psychological efficacy of this ancient idea might therefore prove to be a fruitful area for future empirical and theoretical research.


Ember, M. and Ember, C.R.
Human Relations Area Files at Yale University, USA.

Our worldwide cross-research suggests that a society’s involvement in war may lead parents to socialize boys for aggression. Such socialization is a major predictor of homicide and assault. If we want to reduce violence of all kinds and the necessity to train for it, reducing war may be necessary.  Is the reduction or elimination of war a realistic possibility, given the anthropological record? We believe the answer to this question is yes and that it is not utopian to think so. We say this because the results of our cross-cultural studies of war and peace suggest practical policies that could reduce or eliminate the likelihood of war. We assume that most people would choose to solve their problems peacefully, if they could. The policies discussed here, if adopted by this and other powerful countries, could make it more likely that people would go to peace rather than war to solve their problems. The suggested policies are not just wishful thinking; in some respects they are extensions of things already being done. We discuss the suggested policies after we review the cross-cultural results on predictors of war and the link between war and rates of homicide and assault.


Douglas P. Fry
Developmental Psychology Program, Åbo Akademi University & Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, University of Arizona, USA.

Anthropological findings on war, peace, conflict, and conflict management suggest a variety of insights for building and preserving peace.  This paper explores some of the anthropological research that may have relevance for developing alternatives to war.  First, two general insights stem from anthropology: 1) war is not an inevitable aspect of human nature, and 2) human societies and social organizations are flexible, making the human potential for social change immense.  These points are briefly illustrated.  For example, cross-cultural comparisons show that warfare, while common, is not universal (and therefore not inevitable), cultures with extremely low levels of aggression (“peaceful cultures”) do exist, and examples of cultures shifting from war to peace, sometimes very rapidly, also speak against the inevitability of war.  Second, several more specific anthropological insights related to developing alternatives to war are considered.  These include 1) realization of between-group interdependence, 2) the influences of attitudes, values, and belief systems, 3) the role of super-ordinate authority structures, 4) the existence of alternative conflict management mechanisms, and 5) the reduction of resource and social inequities.