On any given day, students may encounter an array of conflicts, ranging from class stressors to relationship woes. One researcher is seeking to understand the psychology behind how to make effective decisions when resolving disagreements.

Lee Ross, co-founder of the Stanford University Center on Conflict and Negotiation and prominent author in the field of psychology, spoke at the Katz-Newcomb Lecture Series yesterday at the Michigan Alumni Center about his research to reduce intergroup conflict. To a crowd of about 50 people, Ross shared how the practice of reconciliation in places like Northern Ireland and the Middle East can be applicable to everyday, real-life conflicts and discussed methods to overcome problems that arise in reaching resolutions.

Ross specifically examined psychological barriers as a major reason for deadlocks when resolving conflicts. According to Ross, one psychological barrier that prevents resolution is reactive devaluation — the idea that people will devalue proposals or compromise terms because they have been offered.

“We’ve done some work and we have some indication that educating people about reactive devaluation decreases its impact,” he said.

Ross applied his theory in a university setting by explaining that people fail to offer compromises that satisfy both parties’ interests in interpersonal relationships, particularly since bias impacts their ability to understand truly beneficial outcomes. He said people view their opinions as truth and often think they are less susceptible than others to motivational, affective and cognitive biases.

“When a concession is made, people typically go to great pains to assure their side, that may appear that they’re making a big concession, but they’re really not,” he said. “ … In many negotiations, parties go to great pains to make it clear that they haven’t changed their positions in the face of what the other side says and this suggests how underproductive that may be.”

Ross said in an interview after the event that negotiations between two parties are often unsuccessful because it’s not easy for people to make difficult decisions due to a lack of willingness to concede. He continued with an example of a married couple struggling to reach a compromise.

“It may be they’re probably offering what they find easy, not what they find hard,” Ross said. “What I cared about was their willingness to do something hard, and by the virtue of the fact they did it, it meant it wasn’t hard.”

Ross said because a person’s experiences and identities shape their perceptions of the truth, each party will approach reconciliation differently because each views their position as rightful and objective. However, they fail to realize the subjectivity and bias that influence them within their environments in the form of peer pressure, news media and outside interest groups.

LSA junior Ephraim Love, who attended last night’s lecture, said Ross’s speech resonated with him personally since the way Ross perceives the world is largely contingent on his background.

“This talk brings education full circle,” he said.

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