A Daring Alliance: (Non-)Dualist Thinking, Psychodynamics, Information-Processing and Conflict Transformation

Olivier Loose
Dec 12, 2019 · 5 min read
Combining (Non-)Dualist Thinking, Psychodynamics, Information-Processing and Conflict Transformation.
Combining (Non-)Dualist Thinking, Psychodynamics, Information-Processing and Conflict Transformation.
Source: pixabay.com

Neuroscience suggests that verbal knowledge and emotions are housed in separate areas within the brain¹. Because enemy images are mostly associated with negative emotions, negative stereotyping, prejudices, anger and hatred, this locational split in the brain partly accounts for biases in information-processing within the context of enemy imagery formation².

What is more, psychosocial and conflict scholar Daniel Bar-Tal argues that, “[the] process of knowledge formation is always biased, because strong motivations such as ego defense or security needs underlie the information processing in situations of conflict.

What Do We Actually Know, and Can We Trust What We Know?

As a result, society members form their beliefs about conflict through selective information processing and biased interpretation of acquired information”³.

In this regard, cognitive psychology scholars Richard Shiffrin and Walter Schnyder interestingly mention that, “automaticity exemplifies the notion that the unconscious is acquired through learning”⁴.

In addition, mediation scholar Tim Hicks posits that, as “establishing and maintaining our knowing is the basic and most profound element of consciousness”⁵, we have the natural tendency to hold on to our perception of truth and reality in order to protect the very core of our identity.

All of this incentivizes me to closer examine an alliance between cognitive biases in information-processing, psychodynamic processes of enemy imagery formation and (non-)dualistic frameworks, all within the context of conflict transformation⁶.

Information-Processing and Psychodynamics

Schema Theories

Schema theories within the field of cognitive psychology can be of assistance to strengthen the link between information-processing and unconscious mental processes.

Key to these theories is the notion of schemata, which are defined as “unconscious, active mental processes”⁷. Schema theories shed light on the processing of information about “objects and events in their world in the context of their past experiences”⁸.

Subsequently, these theories are helpful in the context of enemy imagery formation to the extent that they set out cognitive strategies for how to structure and process information about in- and out-groups.

Theory of Core Constructs

To further scrutinize the dynamics of biases in information processing, it is relevant to turn to psychologist George Kelly’s theory of core constructs, which greatly helps to understand why certain pieces of new information are either rejected or acknowledged.

These core constructs constitute the very essence of “a person’s approach to life and to the roles he or she plays (sense of self)”⁹. More to the point, they “cannot be changed significantly without disturbing the very roots of our being”¹⁰.

When new information threatens to invalidate these core constructs, it then makes sense why such information “will be rejected or redefined in order to fit the existing, rather impermeable constructs”¹¹.

Non-Dualist Thinking and Conflict Transformation

Conflicting Minds

Facing someone who holds different or controversial beliefs might be confronting, as we might perceive these diverging beliefs as a threat to our identity¹². Psychosocial scholar Eran Halperin explains that “[fear] can even be induced by information received regarding potential threats to the individual or his group”¹³.

At the one hand, fear might explain the challenge of being open to and integrating into one’s knowing new and often seemingly conflicting knowledge about the other. At the other hand, new information might be viewed as an opportunity to increase one’s knowing, allow one’s identity to be more diverse, or adopt a more nuanced form of reality.

Along the same vein, Hicks hints that the usually unconscious process of holding on to our perception of truth and reality might help to explain both dehumanization of the other and the use of dualistic language, such as good-bad, right-wrong or win-lose.

Non-Dualist Views

Communications scholar Marla Del Collins depicts dualism as a framework of reference whereby dichotomous thinking penetrates every facet of human social reality¹⁴. Dualism is reflected in a scheme of antagonistic concepts, such as war or peace, beautiful or ugly, win or lose, with us or against us, outside or inside, true or false, high or low, etc.

What is fundamental to recognize here, is Del Collins’ claim that dualism, as a dogma, can foster conflict, as it refuses to see social reality as complex, evolutionary, flexible, interconnected, diverse and pluralistic.

Sociopolitical scholar Michael Salzman corroborates this assertion by stating that fundamentalists “do not support compassion or tolerance for those who differ on core existential concerns”¹⁵. What is more, they “believe that they are opposed by forces of evil that must be confronted and defeated”¹⁶.

Bringing It All Together

Non-dualistic thinking resonates with psychodynamic development theories in as much as “human maturity is the capacity to hold a stable, mature view of oneself and other as people with both positive and negative characteristics”¹⁷.

In other words, the better we understand psychodynamic principles at work in the context of conflict transformation and dehumanization processes, the more we move away from living within a dualistic worldview.

As a result, we progress towards adopting a more nuanced version of reality.


[1] Ellis, A., Abrams, M., Abrams, L. D., Nussbaum, A., and Frey, R. J. (2009). Psychoanalysis in theory and practice. In: Personality theories: Critical perspectives, (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2009), pp.126–127.

[2] See Ellis (2009), idem. See also Zamperini, A., Andrighetto, L and Menegatto, M. (2012). The Deconstruction of Enemy Images for a Nonkilling Society. In: Nonkilling Pyschology, eds. D.Christie and Pim, J.E., Honolulu, HI: Creative Commons, Center for Global Nonkilling, pp.324–325.

[3] Bar-Tal, D. (2000). From Intractable Conflict Through Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation: Psychological Analysis. Political Psychology, 21(2), p.353.

[4] Ellis (2009), pp.129.

[5] Hicks, T. (2001). Another Look at Identity-Based Conflict: The Roots of Conflct: The Roots of Conflict in the Psychology of Consciousness. Negotiation Journal, 17(1), p.36.

[6] See Nin, A. and White, R.K. (2002). ENEMY IMAGES: A Resource Manual on Reducing Enmity, p.17, p.48 & p.52. Published by Psychologists for Social Responsibility and available at: http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/Enemyimagesmanual.pdf.

[7] Fisher, R.J. (1990). The Social Psychology of Intergroup and International Conflict Resolution, Springer-Verlag, pp.50.

[8] Fisher (1990), pp.49.

[9] Kriesberg, L, Northrup, T. and Thorson, S. (1989). Intractable Conflicts and their Transformation, Syracuse University Press, pp.65.

[10] Kriesberg (1989), idem.

[11] Kriesberg (1989), idem.

[12] Hicks (2001), p.37.

[13] Halperin, E. and Pliskin, R. (2015). Emotions and Emotion Regulation in Intractable Conflict: Studying Emotional Processes Within a Unique Context. Advances in Political Psychology, 36(1), p. 124.

[14] Del Collins, M. (2005). Transcending Dualistic Thinking in Conflict Resolution. Negotiation Journal, 21(2), 263–280.

[15] Salzman, M.B. (2012). Dehumanization as a Prerequisite of Atrocity and Killing. In: Nonkilling Pyschology. eds. D.Christie and Pim, J.E., Honolulu, HI: Creative Commons, Center for Global Nonkilling, pp.117.

[16] Salzman (2012), pp.118

[17] Bader, E.E. (2010). The Psychology of Mediation: Issues of Self and Identity and the IDR Cycle. Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal, 10(2), p.189.

Unique Mindsets

Every person has a different perspective on life that can be unique. This publication wants to portray the unique mindsets and ideas that come from writers.

Olivier Loose

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I am a writer at A Circle Is Round (https://acircleisround.com) and my articles reflect one common theme, i.e. our interconnected nature. Enjoy the reading!

Unique Mindsets

Every person has a different perspective on life that can be unique. This publication wants to portray the unique mindsets and ideas that come from writers.

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