Research on personality as a useful construct to understand
people's behavior in conflict situations was traced over more than
fifty years, and an attempt was made to add neurobiological
parameters to psycho-socio-culturel approaches. As a starting point,
scientists in exile have been called to mind who had been expelled
from Nazi Germany for their Jewish origins. Among them were Adorno
and Frenkel-Brunswik who's extensive studies on the authoritarian
personality structure were quoted. In their work, personality was
defined as a more or less enduring organisation of forces within the
individual helping to determine responses in various situations,
which is responsible for consistency in behavior.
As a next step,
Cloninger's psychobiology of personality traits was presented. In
his personality concept, four temperamental traits (novelty seeking,
harm avoidance, reward dependency and persistence) and three
character dimensions are included. Temperamental traits are
heritable, developmentally stable, emotionally based, uninfluenced
by social learning, and linked to specific brain biological
features. The temperaments have a certain neuroendocrinological
feature which can be determined. Character dimensions develop in a
stagelike process from infancy to adulthood and are influenced by
temperament, social learning, genetic factors, and random life
events. Personality is still considered a useful theoretical
approach to conflict management research and practice. A
neurobiological point of view seems to be a useful supplementation
in addition to traditional psycho-socio-cultural approaches.
Measuring biological compounds can supply the conflict manager with
an additional tool of knowledge enhancing the ability to understand
and anticipate conflict behavior.
Nichts anderes ist jeder Gedanke
Als das Aufgehen
Bachmann: Das dreißigste Jahr)
necessity to deal with conflicts in everyday situations as well as
in times of great strain is as normal and ordinary in our lives as
is cultivating friendly relationships with others. The ability,
however, to react adequately in conflict situations may depend, in
addition to learning and experiences, on neuroendocrinological
properties that seem to be part of one's character and temperament
Recently, Klein und Fedor-Freybergh  have summarized the
up-to-date complex approach to study human behavior. Adequate
understanding of all behavioral mechanisms and their failures is,
they have argued, conditio sine qua non for the most important task
the prediction of actual behavior resulting from different
bio-psycho-socio-cultural sources. They have argued that the wide
range of world problems such as wars, criminality, social
deprivation, famine, and different catastrophes are transferable
into one common denominator:
the failure of man in his
Such a catastrophe coming from the failure of man
in his behavior in conflict situations in our German recent history
and the memory of the disaster lead to establishing the Center for
Conflict Management at the University of Tuebingen. It was suggested
by Miriam Lewin who is the daughter of the well known social
psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890 1947). Kurt Lewin was one of so many
European inhabitants of Jewish origin, among them many scientists,
who were declared for undesirable members of their societies by Nazi
regime and were at best exiled. Lewin left Germany in 1933, and he
was lucky (and young) enough to start a new career in the United
States. In his action research, he created a basic ground for
conflict management and resolution on which present interventional
methods still rely [3, 4].
Though our Center for Conflict
Management works, above all, in the tradition of social scientists
and arts scholars, we are aware of the (neuro)bio-aspect of
bio-psycho-socio-cultural sources of conflict behavior. In the
present article, an attempt will be made to trace aspects of early
research on conflict management from a sociological and
psycho-analytical point of view to a bio-psycho-socio-cultural
approach of to-day. To this end, I will refer to results of studies
on the authoritarian personality structure undertaken by scientists
who had just escaped from Nazi Germany.
Many of those who had
experienced the catastrophe in Nazi Germany tried to cope with what
had happened to them not only in their private but also in their
professional lives. At that time, some of those concerned were
already Nobel Prize winners while others had just started their
careers. Deportation chosen by the Hitler regime hit all of them
hard. Only some of them had the opportunity in exile to continue
their work successfully. I will give only a few examples: Out of the
many affected Nobel Prize winners, let me remind of two celebrities
who have contributed to progress in our ability to investigate the
(neuro)biological part of bio-psycho-socio-cultural sources of
behavior, and of one celebrity who was involved in peace keeping
activities during and after world war two.
The first Nobel
laureate to remind of is the physiologist Otto Loewi (*Frankfurt
03.06.1873, +New York, 25.12.1961). He won the Nobel Prize in
medicine in 1936 (together with Henry Hallet Dale) for discovering
the biochemical transmission of nerve impulses. Loewi saved his live
and the lives of his family members after the "Anschluss" of Austria
in 1938 only by leaving the Nobel Prize money to Nazi regime. So, he
and his family were allowed to emigrate to the United States. From
1940, he was professor at the College of Medicine of the New York
University. But there, Loewi was not able to continue his successful
The second Nobel laureate was Felix Bloch (*Zuerich
23.10.1905, +Zuerich 10.09.1983) who escaped from Nazi-Germany in
1933. When he received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1952 (together
with Edward Mills Purcel) for his work on the magnetic moment of
neutrons (which was a most important step towards NMR), he was
already an American citizen. In Germany, before he emigrated, he had
been a well-known specialist for Ferro-magnetism (discovery of the
Bloch-Floquet-Theorem). He was offered a professorship at Stanford
University in 1934. There, he was able to continue his successful
scientific work which was crowned with the Nobel Prize .
third Nobel laureate I want to remind of was James Franck (*Hamburg
26.08.1882, +Goettingen 21.05.1964). He won the Nobel Prize in
physics in 1925 (together with Gustav Hertz) for his work on
electrons and atoms. He emigrated to the United States in 1933 and,
though he worked in the Manhattan Project, he tried to prevent the
American Government from using the atom bomb. He wrote a memorandum
the Franck-Report in which he warned against nuclear arms race.
After world war two, he visited Goettingen (Germany) from time to
time. This was the place he had been working at for many years
before 1933. And there, he died during such a visit in a hotel in
Two members of the younger generation of scientists in
exile, Theodor W. Adorno (1903 1969) and Else Frenkel-Brunswik (1908
1958), will enable me to start tracing aspects of research on
conflict management and conflict resolution over time. Adorno left
Germany for England in 1934, and left England for the United States
in 1938. Else Frenkel-Brunswik left Austria and emigrated to USA in
1938. One of the major points in their research interest was how to
predict behavior in conflict situations of national importance.
Their starting point in cooperation with R. Nevitt Sanford and
Daniel J. Levinson was the potentially fascistic individual, one
whose personality structure is such as to render him particularly
susceptible to anti-democratic propaganda.
Authoritarian Personality Research
following questions were those, Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik and
coworkers' research  was designed to through some light
"If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what,
precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought?
What are the organizing forces within the person? If such a person
exists, how commonly does he exist in our society? And if such a
person exists, what have been the determinants and what the course
of his development?" [8, p. 2].
The theories that have guided
the research are complex and of current interest. I expressly refer
to the authors' book THE AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY , published in
1950. In the following, some points will be summarized to give an
impression of their ideas:
Adorno et al. have distinguished
between stages of behavior in conflict situations. Opinions,
attitudes and values which are expressed more or less openly in
words are psychologically "on the surface". "But there may be a
discrepancy between what a person says on a particular occasion and
what he really thinks. What he really thinks he can express in
confidential discussion with his intimates. It is to be recognized,
however, that the individual may have secret thoughts which he will
under no circumstances reveal to anyone else if he can help it; he
may have thoughts which he cannot admit to himself, and he may have
thoughts which he does not express because they are so vague and
ill-informed that he cannot put them into words. To gain access to
these deeper trends is particularly important, for precisely here
may lie the individuals' potential for democratic or antidemocratic
thought and action in crucial situations" (p. 4).
assumption that what people say and, to a lesser degree, what they
really think depends very largely upon the climate of opinion in
which they are living, Adorno et al.  pointed to the observation
that, when the climate changes, some individuals adapt themselves
much more quickly than others. Individuals differ in their
susceptibility to antidemocratic propaganda and in their readiness
to exhibit antidemocratic tendencies. If an individual is making
antidemocratic propaganda or engaging in overt attacks upon minority
group members, it is usually assumed that his opinions, attitudes,
and values are congruent with his action; but another individual may
express antidemocratic ideas verbally but does not put them into
overt action. It is, according to Adorno et al., a question of
potentialities, and people differ in these potentialities.
the individual consistently says in public, what he says when he
feels safe from criticism, what he thinks but will not say at all,
what he thinks but will not admit to himself, what he is disposed to
think or to do when various kinds of appeal are made to him all
these phenomena may be conceived of as constituting a single
structure. The structure may not be integrated, it may contain
contradictions as well as consistencies, but it is organized in the
sense that the constituent parts are related in psychologically
In order to understand such a structure, a
theory of the total personality is necessary... personality is a
more or less enduring organization of forces within the individual.
These persisting forces of personality help to determine response in
various situations, and it is thus largely to them that consistency
of behavior whether verbal or physical is attributable. But
behavior, however consistent, is not the same thing as personality;
personality lies behind behavior and within the individual. The
forces of personality are not responses but readiness for
responses..." [8 p. 5].
The task of diagnosing potential fascism
and studying its determinants required techniques especially
designed for these purposes. Two main approaches were used: The
Questionnaire method, and Clinical techniques.
Questionnaire method consisted of
1) factual questions
that had to do mainly with past and present group memberships like
church preference and attendance, political party, vocation, income,
and so on;
2) opinion-attitude scales which were used to obtain
quantitative estimates of certain surface ideological trends like
anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism, politico-economic conservatism. Later
the scale was developed for the measurement of antidemocratic
tendencies in the personality itself; and
3) projective (open
answer) questions which presented subjects with ambiguous and
emotionally toned stimulus material [8, p. 13 16].
Clinical techniques consisted of
1) the interview which
was divided roughly into an ideologic section and a clinical-genetic
section. The method they have chosen was relying on Freud; and
2) the Thematic Apperception Test which is a projective
technique in which the subject is presented with a series of
dramatic pictures and asked to tell a story about each of them.
interview material was used for estimation of certain common
variables lying within the theoretical framework of the study but
not accessible to the other techniques. Interview material also
provided the main basis for individual case studies, baring upon the
interrelationships among all the significant factors operating
within the antidemocratic individual [8, p 16, 17]
their investigations with hundreds of people over a period of more
than a decade were complex, and it is beyond the scope of this
article to report them. Here I only want to quote some sentences
from their conclusions:
"The most crucial result of the present
study, as it seems to the authors, is the demonstration of close
correspondence in the type of approach and outlook a subject is
likely to have in a great variety of areas, ranging from intimate
features of family and sex adjustment through relationships to other
people in general, to religion and to social and political
philosophy. Thus a basically hierarchical, authoritarian, exploitive
parent-child relationship is apt to carry over into a
power-oriented, exploitively dependent attitude toward one's sex
partner and one's God and may well culminate in a political
philosophy and social outlook, which has no room for anything but a
desperate clinging to what appears to be strong and a disdainful
rejection of whatever is relegated to the
Conventionality, rigidity, repressive denial, and the
enduring break-through of one's weakness, fear and dependency are,
according to Adorno et al., but other aspects of the same
fundamental pattern of the authoritarian personality, and they can
be observed in personal life as well as in attitudes towards
religion and social issues.
"On the other hand, there is a
pattern characterized chiefly by affectionate, basically
equalitarian, and permissive interpersonal relationships. This
pattern encompasses attitudes within the family and toward the
opposite sex, as well as an internalization of religious and social
values. Greater flexibility and the potentiality for more genuine
satisfaction appear as results of this basic attitude" [8, p.
Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik and coworkers were convinced that
considering biological factors was not necessary to understand
personality and to explain and predict behavior, and they found
their conception of personality structure being the best safeguard
against the inclination to attribute persistent trends in the
individual to something "innate" or "basic" or "racial" within him.
"The Nazi allegation that natural biological traits decide the total
being of a person would not have been such a successful political
device had it not been possible to point to numerous instances of
relative fixity in human behavior and to challenge those who thought
to explain them on any basis other than a biological one" [8, p.
Cloninger's psychobiological model of temperament and
eighties of the last century, more than a generation after Adorno,
Frenkel-Brunswik and coworkers had sampled their data, and after
neuroscience had made essential progress, C. Robert Cloninger from
the Department of Psychiatry and Genetics at Washington University
School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, started a series of
publications on personality which explicitly included biological
factors. It was at the time when Donovan  complained that, though
hormones greatly influence behavior, yet modern textbooks on
personality may contain no reference to the real world as
represented by the endocrine system, or to hormones the products of
endocrine gland activity. This, he stated, is remarkable,
particularly when it is realized that personality is taken to refer
to the distinctive patterns of behavior, including thoughts and
emotions, that characterize adaptation to the variety of situations
that an individual might encounter from day to day, and in which
hormonal changes are especially marked [9, p. 5].
proposed a psychobiological model of temperament and character which
includes four dimensions of temperaments novelty seeking, harm
avoidance, reward dependency, and persistence and three dimensions
of character self-directedness, cooperativeness, and
self-transcendence. In his model, these seven components constitute
human personality . The dimensions of temperament are defined as
those components of personality that are heritable, developmentally
stable, emotionally based, uninfluenced by sociocultural learning,
and linked to specific brain biological features. This was revealed
by genetic, neurophysiological and neuroanatomical
Character dimensions develop in a stagelike manner from
infancy through adulthood. Transitions between levels of maturity in
character and social skills are nonlinear functions of temperament,
social learning, specific genetic factors and random life events
Originally, the model included three dimensions of
temperament novelty seeking, harm avoidance, and reward dependency,
and Cloninger's Three-dimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ) is
still extensively used in various areas including neurobiology,
psychiatry and psychology.
Gerra, Zaimovic, Timpano, Zambelli,
Delsignore and Brambilla  have summarized neurobiological
outcome concerning Cloninger's model as follows: Novelty seeking is
a personality dimension defined as a compulsive need for varied,
novel and complex sensations with the willingness to take physical
and social risks for the sake of such experience. According to
Zuckerman , the sensitivity to only emotional overstimulation
seems to be due to a higher arousal threshold. Mesolimbic and
mesofrontal dopaminergic projections might be involved in incentive
activation of novelty seeking. This trait could be genetically
determined and, in particular, could be associated with the DRD4*7R
allele at the D4 dopamine receptor locus  however see: .
Cloninger  and Ruegg  found novelty seeking is positively
correlated with density of the dopamine transporter responsible for
the presynaptic reuptake of dopamine, higher levels of novelty
seeking being linked to reduced dopamine release from presynaptic
neurons and compensatory increased sensitivity of postsynaptic DA
receptors. Others  found, in addition, novelty seekers have high
dopamine and low serotonin functions. Gerra et al.  found
positive correlations between novelty seeking scores on Cloninger's
Three-dimensional Personality Questionnaire and norepinephrine,
prolactin, and testosterone baseline plasma levels in healthy
According to Gerra et al. , harm avoidance, or
behavioral inhibition, seems to be associated with serotonin
function, high harm avoidance scores being related to high serotonin
release from presynaptic neurons and with postsynaptic serotonin
receptor down-regulation. Alterations of serotonin transporter gene
have been found involved in the biological impairments underlying
harm avoidance alterations . In their own study, challenging the
monoamine systems with agonists in healthy subjects, Gerra et al.
 showed a direct correlation of harm avoidance with serotonin
Reward dependency is associated with the formation of
conditioned signals of reward. This temperament trait seems to be
linked to norepinephrine function; low levels of urinary
3-methoxy-4-hydroxy-phenylglycol (MHPG) having been reported in
subjects with high reward dependency, while a supersensitivity of
alpha-2-adrenoceptors, deriving from decreased NE secretion, has
been observed in low reward dependency individuals, see .
Cloninger  has reported reward dependency is positively
correlated with the ability of serotonin to stimulate the
ritanserin-sensitive formation of inositol monophosphate in
Bond , in a recent review article on
neurotransmitters, temperament and social functioning, found
substantial evidence now exists to support a psychobiological model
as proposed by Cloninger. However, specificity of his theory has not
always been confirmed.
Cloninger's research was concerned with
clinical populations, especially with alcoholics. This must be kept
in mind when considering his neurogenic model which describes
behavior related to temperament traits and character as
- Novelty seeking behavior can be looked at as lying
between the two extremes deliberate and impulsive with a clear
direction of impulsiveness with the tendency of the affected
person to be an adventurer, euphoria-seeking.
- Harm avoidance behavior can be looked at as lying
between being cautious and risk-taking with a clear direction of
being cautious with the tendency to a worrier type,
- Reward dependency behavior can be looked at as lying
between friendliness and aloofness with a clear direction of
friendliness, also with the tendency to a worrier-type,
- Character of the adventurer-type (novelty seeking
behavior, serotonergic deficit) is described as socially hostile,
in addition to uncooperativeness involving lack of empathy, social
tolerance, compassion, and moral principles.
- Character of the worrier-type (harm avoidance and
reward dependency behavior, dopaminergic deficit)) is described as
social dependent, and being related to empathic and compassionate
behavior with high amount of cooperativeness in contrast to
antisocial and vengeful behavior with low level of cooperativeness
in the adventurer-type.
According to Cloninger, the deficit in character and social
skills has been consistently associated with deficits in
serotonergic neuroregulation, including decreased availability of
the serotonin precursor tryptophan, reduced serotonin concentrations
in platelets and low cerebrospinal fluid levels of
5-hydroxyindoleacretic acid, which is highly correlated with
serotonin metabolite levels in frontal neocortex. On the other hand,
while low reward dependency and impulsive-aggressive traits increase
the risk of uncooperative character, the correlation of
uncooperativeness with any of the temperamental antecedents is not
strong [1, p. 624].
neurobiological approach to conflict management
the viewpoint of conflict management, Cloninger's  work on the
psychobiological regulation of social cooperation is especially
supporting the view that the "bio"-part of bio-psycho-socio-cultural
sources of human behavior should be included in theory and practice
of conflict behavior. Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik and coworkers'
warning against misusing biological findings should nevertheless be
kept in mind. If Cloninger's findings of a close relationship of
deficits in social skills to alterations in biochemical compounds
also applies for healthy subjects, measuring biological parameters
can be an important additional tool of knowledge for conflict
In traditional conflict management research and
practice, the personality construct is still considered a useful
theoretical approach [19, 20]. A neurobiological point of view,
however, seems to the present authors' knowledge non existant.
With respect to personality, Sandy, Boardman and Deutsch 
have reviewed the role of individual differences in personality and
their implications for understanding personal reaction and behavior
in conflict situations. They covered ideas relevant to conflict from
several non-biological theoretical approaches psychodynamic, need,
social learning, and situation-person-interaction. The collected
data were interpreted as indicating personality theory and
assessment enhances conflict resolution in practice. Specific
personality types frequently show similar problems in conflict
management, in their unconscious motivation, and in the type of
conflict resolution strategy they use to handle conflict situation.
Awareness of these patterns helps the conflict resolution
practitioner anticipate problems in the negotiation process,
intervene effectively, build better communication between
negotiating parties, and assist negotiators to a satisfactory and
lasting settlement. This knowledge helps the conflict resolution
practitioner uncover the driving forces behind certain locked
positions, such as inability to make or commit to an agreement.
Understanding personality needs may be a key factor in resolving
some supposedly intractable conflicts and in creating a stable,
long-term solution .
According to Cloninger's understanding
of personality, i.e., temperament traits and character dimensions
, one would like to discover possible differences between novelty
seekers and subjects high in harm avoidance and high in reward
dependency with respect to conflict behavior. Are subjects high in
reward dependency more interested than novelty seekers in
problem-solving strategies to conflict solutions, i.e., do they pay
more attention to interests of both sides and do they use more often
peaceful strategies? Are there differences between the groups in the
use of language for conflict solutions? Are there differences in the
kind of conflicts they use to be confronted with? And are there
differences in frequency, level of difficulty and duration of
conflicts? And if differences between the three groups exist, are
biological parameters better indicators of conflict behavior than
are test scores on temperament scales? These seem to be but some of
the questions to be answered in approaches that include the "bio"
aspect to bio-psycho-socio-cultural investigation of conflict
If we assume measurement of biological compounds can
supply the conflict manager with an additional tool of knowledge
enhancing his/her ability to understand and anticipate conflict
behavior, than he/she would need biological tests which could be
applied easily. But to this end there is a long way off. By now, the
results of studies on neurotransmitters, temperament and social
functioning  are still controversial. Cloninger's findings ,
however, indicate that serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine might
play a role. Measuring these compounds in exploratory studies could
serve as a starting point.
Natural sciences like physics and
chemistry have traditionally been intimately linked to conflict
research and management as have been social sciences; and memory of
the Nobel laureate and physicist James Franck in the introduction
has already acknowledged this. Future research will show whether
neurobiology can serve as combining these two scientific approaches
to conflict behavior.
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