Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter August 6, 2014

Breaking the Dynamics of Emotions and Fear in Conflict and Reconstruction

  • Urs Luterbacher EMAIL logo and Carmen Sandi


This paper is all about the construction of a new analytical framework to understand conflict and cooperation both at the international and at the domestic level with the aim of then finding mechanisms to reduce tensions and initiate conflict resolution schemes. The existing research literature on such analytical frameworks has so far been conducted a) mostly on standard social science disciplinary lines and has not incorporated the important work done on these questions by neuro-scientists and behavioral geneticists and b) is not really capable except in very specific instances to deal with the evolving dynamics of conflict and cooperation. Conflict over scarce resources (territory, mates, food) between members of the same species is a universal feature of evolution. Often conflict, especially armed conflict is supposed to be due to shows of force by two or more parties in order to appropriate or dominate resources. Force appears thus not to be the only decisive factor; perceived entitlement and powerful feelings of injustice thereby generated in the case of challenge, extended to group identity are also at the basis of conflict and aggression in humans. The relationship between environment and conflict, the role of emotions such as fear, and the absence of clear definition and enforcement of property rights within societies are also factors in the development of conflict. Thus we have here developed an analytically based numerical model that aims to include finding on these topics by Neuroscience and to emphasize the role of emotions in conflict and cooperation dynamics. This model has been simulated without specific reference to a particular country with the result that economic conditions drive our system since in one case sustained growth produces stability and end of combats whereas deteriorating capital growth and GDP collapse lead to increased hostile coalition participation and more fighting. However, the mere trigger of economic conditions is insufficient to explain conflict escalation, which results from increased participation in mutually hostile coalitions and greater fighting propensity where emotions such as fear and resentment play their role. Finally a detailed empirical analysis of the current Syrian conflict has been undertaken which shows the ability of the model to forecast actual historical developments. This study also indicates that worsening economic conditions are not the only triggering factors in civil conflict. Perceptions of opportunities due to a weakening of a regime’s authority also play a major role.

Corresponding author: Urs Luterbacher, Political Science and International Relations, Centre for Finance and Development, and Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, E-mail:

  1. 1

    A metanorm is according to Axelrod (1986) a norm that serves to enforce a group norm, here the agent who does not follow the ethnic cue of the group he belongs to will be punished himself.

  2. 2

    Such a territorial emphasis and the relationships it implies between armed groups and the civilian population has been pioneered by Kalyvas (2006) Kalyvas and Kocher (2009).

  3. 3

    She suggests an alternative axiomatization of utility theory topology as already mentioned above in order to account for attitudes involving fear of catastrophes.

  4. 4

    The links between bargaining and risk attitudes are explored as mentioned before in Arcand and Luterbacher (2013).

  5. 5

    As opposed to the previous utility function, which referred to the choice between public and private goods, this one refers to the choice between fighting and producing and is thus labeled uwf. The two utility functions are obviously linked, a fact that we will evoke below.

  6. 6

    The framework of the constraint is inspired by Dasgupta and Heal’s (1979) similar reasoning for the case of public goods.

  7. 7

    We can see from this budget constraint how we could overcome the restriction posed in Assumption 6 and make our model necessary and sufficient for the explanation of war lord activities: the war lord is the one who organizes the taxation of resources to distribute the initial subsidy to fighters.

  8. 8

    Empirical cases of such international cartels include the OPEC or the coffee cartel until the 1990s.

  9. 9

    This particular finding is compatible with the point made by De Soysa et al. (1999) that there are high rates of civil wars in agrarian societies since production can here take any form. Notice that agricultural productivities are relatively low in agrarian societies. Moreover, these are often also producers of natural resources.

  10. 10

    Clearly our intention is to go farther here than conceptions based solely upon micro-level analyses such as the ones by Kalyvas (2006) and Kalyvas and Kocher (2009). While the conceptual importance of the territorial approach pioneered by him is fully acknowledged, it begs the question of the origins and developments of armed groups and their recruitment dynamics which cannot be uniquely based upon the provisions of collective and private goods and coercion at least in the beginning of a conflict. Incentives to fight based upon general economic conditions certainly have a place in the analysis as we are trying to suggest here.

  11. 11

    Our parameters are a priori evaluations and not statistical estimations, thus the use of correlation coefficients rather than other statistics.


Allais, M., (1953), Le Comportement de l’homme rationnel devant le risque: Critique des postulats et axiomes de l’école américaine, Econometrica, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 503–546.10.2307/1907921Search in Google Scholar

Arcand, Jean-Louis, Luterbacher, Urs, (2013), Conflict, the Harsanyi-Zeuthen Bargaining Solution, and Departures from Expected Utility, MS Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Axelrod, R.M., (1980), The Evolution of Cooperation, Basic Books, New York.Search in Google Scholar

Axelrod, R.M., (1986), An Evolutionary Approach to Norms, American Political Science Review, vol. 80, no. 4, pp. 1095–1111.Search in Google Scholar

Axelrod, R., Hamilton, W.D., (1981), The Evolution of Cooperation, Science, vol. 211, no. 4489, pp. 1390–1396.Search in Google Scholar

Baumgartner, T., Heinrichs, M., Vonlanthen, A., Fischbacher, U., Fehr, E., (2008), Oxytocin Shapes the Neural Circuitry of Trust and Trust Adaptation in Humans, Neuron, vol. 58, no. 4, pp. 639–650.Search in Google Scholar

Bhavnani, R., Backer, D., (1999), Localized Ethnic Conflict and Genocide: Accounting for Differences in Rwanda and Burundi, Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 283–306.Search in Google Scholar

Bhavnani, R., Miodownik, D., Choi, H., (2011), Violence and Control in Civil Conflict: Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, Comparative Politics, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 61–80.Search in Google Scholar

Cederman, L.E., (2003), Modeling the Size of Wars: From Billiard Balls to Sandpiles, American Political Science Review, vol. 97, no. 1, pp. 135–150.Search in Google Scholar

Cederman, L.E., (2005), Computational Models of Social Forms: Advancing Generative Macro Theory, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 110, no. 4, pp. 864–893.Search in Google Scholar

Chateauneuf, A., Cohen, M., Meilijson, I., (2005), More Pessimism than Greediness: A Characterization of Monotone Risk Aversion, Economic Theory, vol. 25, no. 3, pp. 649–667.Search in Google Scholar

Chichilnisky, G., (1994), North-South Trade and the Global Environment, The American Economic Review, vol. 84, no. 4, pp. 851–874.Search in Google Scholar

Chichilnisky, G., (2009a), Catastrophic Risks, International Journal of Green Economics, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 130–141.10.1504/IJGE.2009.030989Search in Google Scholar

Chichilnisky, G., (2009b), The Topology of Fear, Journal of Mathematical Economics, vol. 45, no. 12, pp. 807–812.10.1016/j.jmateco.2009.06.006Search in Google Scholar

Chichilnisky, G., Heal, G., Starrett, D., (2000), Equity and Efficiency in Environmental Markets: Global Trade in Carbon Dioxide Emissions, in Chichilnisky G., Heal, G., (eds.), Environmental Markets Equity and Efficiency, Columbia University Press, NY, pp. 46–67.10.7312/chic11588-003Search in Google Scholar

Collier, P., Hoeffler, A., (1998), On Economic Causes of Civil War, Oxford Economic Papers, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 563–573.Search in Google Scholar

Collier, P., Hoeffler, A., (2000), Greed and grievance in civil war, World Bank Policy Research Paper 2355, World Bank, Washington, DC.10.1596/1813-9450-2355Search in Google Scholar

Collins, R., (2008), Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.10.1515/9781400831753Search in Google Scholar

Cordero M.I., Sandi, C., (2007), Stress Amplifies Memory for Social Hierarchy, Frontiers in Neuroscience, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 175–184.Search in Google Scholar

Deitchman S.J., (1962), A Lanchester Model of Guerrilla Warfare, Operations Research, vol. 10, no. 6, pp. 818–827.Search in Google Scholar

De Soysa, Indra, Gleditsch, Nils Petter, Gibson, Michael, Sollenberg, Margareta (1999), To Cultivate Peace: Agriculture in a World of Conflict, Environmental Change and Security Project Report, no. 5, The Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington D.C.Search in Google Scholar

Dugatkin, L.A., (2002), Animal Cooperation Among Unrelated Individuals. Naturwissenschaften, vol. 89, no. 12, pp. 533–541.10.1007/s00114-002-0379-ySearch in Google Scholar

Fearon, J., (1994), Signaling versus the Balance of Power and Interests: An Empirical Test of a Crisis Bargaining Model, Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 236–269.Search in Google Scholar

Fearon, J., Laitin, D., (1996), Explaining interethnic cooperation, American Political Science Review, vol. 90, no. 4, pp. 715–735.Search in Google Scholar

Fehr, E., Camerer, C., (2007), Social neuroeconomics: the neural circuitry of social preferences, TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 11, no. 10, pp. 419–427.Search in Google Scholar

Feenstra, Robert C., Inklaar, Robert, Timmer, Marcel P., (2013), The Next Generation of the Penn World Table, NBER Working Paper, no. 19255, Nod in July 2013. Available for download at in Google Scholar

Friedman, M., Savage, L.P., (1948), The Utility Analysis of Choices involving Risk, Journal of Political Economy, vol. 56, no. 1, pp. 279–304.Search in Google Scholar

Gardner Jr. R., Wilson, D.R., (2004), Sociophysiology and Evolutionary Aspects of Psychiatry, in Panksepp J., (ed.), Textbook of Biological Psychiatry, Wiley, Hoboken, NJ, pp. 597–625.Search in Google Scholar

Gilbert, P., (2001), Evolutionary Approaches to Psychopathology: The Role of Natural Defenses, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 17–27.Search in Google Scholar

Hamilton, I.M., Taborsky, M., (2005), Contingent Movement and Cooperation Evolve Under Generalized Reciprocity, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, vol. 272, pp. 2259–2267.Search in Google Scholar

Hofer, M.A., (1995), An Evolutionary Perspective on Anxiety, in Roose, S.P., Glick, R.A., (eds.), Anxiety as Symptom and Signal, Analytic Press, Hillsdale, NJ.Search in Google Scholar

Homer-Dixon, T., (1994), Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict: Evidence from cases, International Security, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 5–40.Search in Google Scholar

Kahneman, D., Tversky, A., (1979), Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decisions under Risk. Econometrica, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 263–291.10.2307/1914185Search in Google Scholar

Kalyvas, S.N., (2006), The Logic of Violence in Civil War, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.10.1017/CBO9780511818462Search in Google Scholar

Kalyvas, S.N., Kocher, M.A., (2009), The Dynamics of Violence in Vietnam: An Analysis of the Hamlet Evaluation System, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 335–355.Search in Google Scholar

Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P.J., Fischbacher, U., Fehr, E., (2005), Oxytocin Increases Trust in Humans, Nature vol. 435, pp. 673–676.Search in Google Scholar

Lohmann, S., (1993), A Signaling Model of Informative and Manipulative Political Action, American Political Science Review, vol. 87, no. 2, pp. 319–33.Search in Google Scholar

Lorho T., Fert, V., Luterbacher, U., (2014), Predicting Political and Economic Crises with the Help of Textual Analysis of Large Sources: The Globe Expert Methodology, The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. Forthcoming.Search in Google Scholar

Luterbacher, U., Norrlof, C., (2008), Securing the Environment and Securing States, in Chatterji, M., Fontanel, J., (eds.), Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics, and Development, vol. 6, War, Peace and Security, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 267–297.10.1016/S1572-8323(08)06016-5Search in Google Scholar

Luterbacher, U., Krasna, B., (2010), Towards understanding conflict elicitation and conflict resolution: challenges for brain, behavioral and social sciences, in Moira Cockell et al. edit. Common Knowledge: The Challenge of Transdisciplinarity EPFL Press Lausanne, forthcoming.Search in Google Scholar

Mendres, K.A., de Waal, F.B.M., (2000), Capuchins do Cooperate: The Advantage of an Intuitive Task, Animal Behaviour, vol. 60, no. 4, pp. 523–529.Search in Google Scholar

Meyer-Lindenberg, A., (2008), Impact of Prosocial Neuropeptides on Human Brain Function, Progress in Brain Research, vol. 170, pp. 463–470.Search in Google Scholar

Milnor, J.W., Shapley L.S., (1978), Values of Large Games, II: Oceanic Games, Mathematics of Operations Research, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 290–307.Search in Google Scholar

Nesse, R.M., (1999), Proximate and Evolutionary Studies of Anxiety, Stress and Depression: Synergy at the Interface, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 899–912.Search in Google Scholar

von Neumann, J., Morgenstern, O., (1947), Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, Princeton University Press, Princeton.Search in Google Scholar

Nowak, M.A., Sigmund, K., (1998a), The Dynamics of Indirect Reciprocity, Journal of Theoretical Biology, vol. 194, no. 4, pp. 561–574.10.1006/jtbi.1998.0775Search in Google Scholar

Nowak, M.A., Sigmund, K., (1998b), Evolution of Indirect Reciprocity by Image Scoring, Nature, vol. 393, pp. 573–577.10.1038/31225Search in Google Scholar

Nowak, M.A., Sigmund, K., (2005), Evolution of Indirect Reciprocity, Nature, vol. 437, pp. 1291–1298.Search in Google Scholar

Nowak, M.A., Roch, S., (2007), Upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, vol. 274, pp. 605–610.Search in Google Scholar

O’Neill, B., (1986), International Escalation and the Dollar Auction, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 33–50.Search in Google Scholar

Panksepp, J., (2005), Affective Consciousness: Core Emotional Feelings in Animals and Humans, Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 30–80.Search in Google Scholar

Panksepp, J., (2006), Emotional Endophenotypes in Evolutionary Psychiatry, Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, vol. 30, pp. 774–784.Search in Google Scholar

Pfeiffer T., Rutte, C., Killingback, T., Taborsky, M., Bonhoeffer, S., (2005), Evolution of Cooperation Through Generalized Reciprocity, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, vol. 272, pp. 1115–1120.Search in Google Scholar

Rutte, C., Taborsky, M., (2007), Generalized Reciprocity in Rats, Plos Biology, vol. 5, no 7, pp. 1421–1425.Search in Google Scholar

Rutte C., Taborsky, M., (2008), The Influence of Social Experience on Cooperative Behavior of Rats (Rattus norvegicus): Direct vs Generalized Reciprocity, Behavioural Ecology & Sociobiology, vol. 62, no. 4, pp. 499–505.Search in Google Scholar

Shubik, M., (1971), The Dollar Auction Game: A Paradox in Noncooperative Behavior and Escalation. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 109–111.10.1177/002200277101500111Search in Google Scholar

Singer, T., Kiebel, S.J., Winston, J.S., Dolan, R.J., Frith, C.D., (2004), Brain Responses to the Acquired Moral Status of Faces, Neuron, vol. 41, pp. 653–662.Search in Google Scholar

Straffin Philip D. Jr., (1977), The Bandwagon Curve, American Journal of Political Science, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 695–709.Search in Google Scholar

Timmer, M., Cordero, M.I., Sevelinges, Y., Sandi, C., (2011), Evidence for a Role of Oxytocin Receptors in the Long-Term Establishment of Dominance Hierarchies, Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 36, pp. 2349–2356.Search in Google Scholar

Trivers, R., (1971), The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism, The Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 35–57.Search in Google Scholar

Uvnas-Moberg, K., (1998), Oxytocin May Mediate the Benefits of Positive Social Interaction and Emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology, vol. 23, no. 8, pp. 819–835.10.1016/S0306-4530(98)00056-0Search in Google Scholar

Zak, P.J., Kurzban, R., Matzner, W.T., (2005), Oxytocin is Associated with Human Trustworthiness, Hormones and Behavior, no. 48, pp. 522–527.Search in Google Scholar

Article note

The research presented here was supported through a grant from SNIS the Swiss Network for International Studies. This help is gratefully acknowledged by the authors.

Prepared for the

Workshop on:

Advances in Defense & Peace Economics and Peace Science November 8 – 11, 2013


Institute of Defense Economics and Management

Central University of Finance and Economics

39 South College Road, Haidian District

Beijing, China

Published Online: 2014-8-6
Published in Print: 2014-8-1

© 2014 by De Gruyter

Downloaded on 28.11.2023 from
Scroll to top button