Thursday, June 9, 2011

Psychology - Conflict

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Conflict is the clash of activities, feelings or intentions occurring together, expressed through a range of either verbal denigration to that of physical violence to a person or property. Morton (17) defines it as existing “when incompatible activities occur”, resulting in making the second activity “less likely or effective”.

Literature Review

Early psychologists argued that conflict is caused by an innate instinctual or biological mechanism, which would predispose humans towards aggression. This gave way to more sophisticated and scientific hypotheses over time. One important development was the Frustration-Aggression theory.

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Frustration-Aggression theory (F-A theory)

In 1, Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, and Sears published a monograph on aggression in which they presented what has come to be known as the frustration-aggression hypothesis (F-A). Dollard et al. posited that the occurrence of aggressive behavior always presupposes the existence of frustration and, contrariwise, that the existence of frustration always leads to some form of aggression. Frustration, in this context, was specified as the thwarting of a goal response, and a goal response, in turn, was taken to mean the reinforcing final operation in an ongoing behavior sequence. At times, however, the term frustration is used to refer not only to the process of blocking a persons attainment of a reinforcer but also to the reaction to such blocking. Consequently, being frustrated means both that ones access to reinforcers is being thwarted by another party (or possibly by particular circumstances) and that ones reaction to this thwarting is one of annoyance.

Dollards hypotheses use Freuds ideas about his psycho-dynamic explanations, which indicate that humans are born with an instinct drive to aggress and destroy and this aggressive energy must be released. Aggression was meant to protect and is aimed outwards but it can also be released through activities like competition.

The questions that this theory raise are does all frustration lead automatically to aggression, and can all aggression and conflict be traced to some catalytic frustration? These questions, as well as the challenge of insufficiency of causal link to aggression, and other insights into human behaviour have lead to the discrediting of the Frustration-Aggression theory and the subsequent development of the Social Learning theory.

A revised version of the F-A theory, the Aggression Cue theory (Berkowitz, 158) emphasized frustration or attack as “important antecedents of aggression, and the presence of aggressive cues for the elicitation of aggression”. He believed that both the innate and external factors (Learning theory) play a big role whether aggression occurs or not. If aggression is shown as a result of frustration also depends on many factors, like how close we are to reaching our goal and whether the frustration is a long-term or a short-term one and the number and intensity of frustrations that occur together.

Classical Conditioning takes place when an unconditional and conditional stimulus are paired together � the individual may learn to respond to the conditional stimulus when it is presented alone; Berkowitz thought that something (e.g. weapon) can become associated with aggression and may act as a cue, so it triggers an aggressive response.

Implications of F-A theories

Young Singaporean teenagers, at the age of 1, faced with changes, challenges and increased responsibilities, a heavier curriculum plus CCAs may experience a ‘block’ in their pursuit to attain these goals, which will lead to a dis-equilibrium and thus causing them to display aggressive behaviours.

When teenagers are inexperienced in dealing with unattainable needs and goals, they find that the easiest way to get rid of the frustration is to act violently against others who they blame for their bad situation (extrinsic drive, scapegoat device). Thus schools are left with the responsibility of dealing with a teenager’s frustration, which ultimately and commonly, turns into aggression.

Perceptual Control Theory (PCT)

In the early 150s, William T. Powers made the brilliant observation that people behave to deliberately control many, but not all, of their own perceptions of the world. A person who acts on the world to control his or her own perceptions must affect parts of the world. As observers, we can see some of the environmental variables that the person controls. From our vantage point outside the other person, we see events and relationships and processes that would ordinarily vary, but that are controlled by the person, which is to say the person keeps those events and relationships and processes at some predetermined state or condition.

To explain how people control their perceptions, Powers developed control system theory (CST), which was the early name for what is now called perceptual control theory. The new name was adopted early in the 10s, to distinguish Powers theory from the many fallacious ideas that some people had come to call control theory. Powers said that people specify part of what they perceive happening in the world by comparing what they actually perceive against what they intend to perceive. If there is no discrepancy or difference (called perceptual error) between actual and intended perceptions, the person does not act to change the world; but if there is a discrepancy, the person acts to eliminate the error. People behave to eliminate, or prevent, differences between actual and intended perceptions. People behave to cancel out the effects of anything in the environment that disturbs the perceptions they are trying to control.

Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) explains a simple fact People act to control some of their own perceptions. They specify part of what they will perceive, then they act to make those perceptions happen. People also keep their specified perceptions from changing, by acting to oppose and cancel the effects of many things in the world that might disturb them and make them change. PCT helps us to understand what happens when one persons actions disturb another persons controlled perceptions. (Thomas W. Bourbon, 17)

Implications of PCT

PCT highlights that what is perceived may not be the problem, and the solutions that we as teachers come up with may not be effective because we are trying to change behaviour. For example, trying to control students by giving them rewards or punishment does not teach them how to think. Instead, the root of the problem must be tackled and students have to learn to think their way out of conflict, just as they have to learn how to think when they have problems with Mathematics or Science. In one of the strategies highlighted in the next section, students are given the responsibility for their choice of action(s), allowing teachers to move away from the traditional method of canning and chiding a student who has displayed unacceptable behaviour.


Conflict Resolution

Teaching youth how to manage conflict in a productive way can help reduce incidents of violent behaviour. Conflict resolution education is a beneficial component of a comprehensive violence prevention and intervention program in schools and communities. It encompasses problem solving in which the parties in dispute express their points of view, voice their interests, and find mutually acceptable solutions. Conflict resolution education programs help the parties recognize that while conflict happens all the time, people can learn new skills to deal with conflict in non-violent ways. The programs that appear to be most effective are comprehensive and involve multiple components such as the problem-solving processes and principles of conflict resolution, the basics of effective communication and listening, critical and creative thinking, and an emphasis on personal responsibility and self-discipline.

Two common strategies for approaching conflict resolution can be identified (1) Peer Mediation and () Peaceable Classrooms. In both approaches, conflict resolution education is viewed as giving youth non-violent tools to deal with daily conflicts that can lead to self-destructive and violent behaviours. It is up to the school to decide how conflict resolution education will be integrated into its overall educational environment. The expectation is that when youth learn to recognize and constructively address what takes place before conflict or differences lead to violence, the incidence and intensity of that situation will diminish.

Peer Mediation Approach

Specially trained student mediators work with their peers to resolve conflicts. Mediation programs reduce the use of traditional disciplinary actions such as suspension, detention, and expulsion; encourage effective problem solving; decrease the need for teacher involvement in student conflicts; and improve school climate. By the end of the school year, schools reported less than 10 fights, a major decrease from their usual figures.

Peaceable Classroom Approach

The Peaceable Classroom approach integrates conflict resolution into the curriculum and daily management of the classroom. It uses the instructional methods of cooperative learning and “academic controversy”. The programme shows teachers how to integrate conflict resolution into the curriculum, classroom management, and discipline practices. It emphasizes opportunities to practice cooperation, appreciation of diversity, and caring and effective communication. Generally, peaceable classrooms are initiated on a teacher-by-teacher basis into the classroom setting and are the building blocks of the peaceable school.

Studies on the effectiveness of the Teaching Students To Be Peacemakers program, a Peaceable Classroom approach to conflict resolution, show that discipline problems requiring teacher management decreased by approximately 80 percent and referrals to the principal were reduced to zero.

Responsible Thinking Process (RTP)

The RTP, based on the PCT, is a unique discipline process, which is both non-manipulative and non-punitive. It creates mutual respect by teaching students how to think through what they are doing in relation to the rules of wherever they are. This gives students personal accountability for their actions. The key component of this process is its focus on how students can achieve their goals without getting in the way of others who are trying to do the same thing.

When a disruption occurs in the classroom, the teacher will ask the student “What are you doing?” The student will then make a choice whether to follow the rule (which is to pay attention and not to make noise) or to go to the RTC (Responsible Thinking Class), where the student will receive counselling from a professional employee of the school. A student is given one chance only. By the second disruption, the student will be told “You have chosen to go to the RTC” and it is only under special circumstances that a maximum of chances should be given. The teacher will fill in a referral form and the student will proceed to RTC. Student movement will be checked. When a student chooses to disrupt in the RTC, he or she will be asked to leave the school, accompanied by a parent or guardian. Otherwise, the student will be asked to sit outside the office until the parent or guardian can bring the student home.

Implications for Singapore schools

The Reflective Thinking Programme (RTP) seeks to develop the student’s ability to reflect upon their past actions rationally and objectively and thus manage their anger and frustration more effectively. It promotes sense of ownership by making students take responsibility of their misbehaviour, thus acting as deterrence to the better students and would undoubtedly help students who actually engage in reflective thinking to improve their anger management However, bearing in mind that most of the ill-disciplined students are recalcitrant and defiant and made of up of the NT students, the RTP may not have served its purpose well.

One of the advantages is that the RTP seems to work for the teachers teaching in the classes with poorer discipline as it removes the disturbing element/s from the class enabling the teacher to go on conducting the lesson undisrupted.

While the RTP relieves the teacher from spending precious lesson time disciplining them, the recalcitrant students sent to the RTP do not seem to benefit much from the scheme.

Firstly, the students sent are not interested in learning and thus the RTP serves as an escape for them from the class. They are more than happy to spend their time in the air-conditioned room for the whole lesson period. It has then become an incentive for them to misbehave in class and be sent to RTP.

Secondly, the recalcitrant students do not actually reflect much about their actions or behaviour that caused them to be sent out of class nor do they seek to improve their behaviour. While most adults are possessed with the ability to reflect upon past actions and learn from the past experiences, we cannot expect the students of that age to be able to do so.

The counselor is also unable to follow up on them too due to time constraint and lack of contact and proximity unlike teachers. Yet teachers themselves are forever short of time, and in the end, RTP only serves as a method that escalates bad conduct because students are not afraid of being punished in the end. They do not feel the pain and thus their behaviour or conduct does not change.

Students are expected to plan their solutions before they are allowed back to school or into the classroom, which could be with the help of teachers, parents or counsellors. Only after the school or the teacher whose class the student has disrupted, accepts the plan, then the student be allowed into the school or classroom.


The effective conflict resolution education programs highlighted above have helped to improve the climate in school and community by reducing the number of juvenile acts in these settings; by decreasing the number of chronic school absences, the number of disciplinary referrals and suspensions; by increasing academic instruction during the school day; and by increasing the self-esteem and self-respect, as well as the personal responsibility and self-discipline of the young people involved in these programs.

Young people cannot be expected to promote and encourage the peaceful resolution of conflicts if they do not see conflict resolution principles and strategies being modelled by adults in all areas of their lives, such as in business, sports, entertainment, and personal relationships. Adults play a part in making the environment more peaceful by practicing non-violent conflict resolution when minor or major disputes arise in their daily lives.

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