How do Different Stakeholders in a Conflict Perceive Peace? Research Provides Lessons from Israel

March 24, 2021by Anupriya Kukreja

Summary of:

Leshem, O. A., & Halperin, E. (2020). Lay theories of peace and their influence on policy preference during violent conflict. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America117(31), 18378–18384.

Background & Theory

The authors of this paper define the Lay theories of peace as 1) Positive peace, 2) Negative peace, and 3) Structural peace (justice, equality). The concept of positive and negative peace has long been a part of conflict literature, but it hasn’t been studied in the relative context of perceptions of peace held by rival communities. The authors hence do so for Jewish people versus Palestinian people.

Research Question(s)

The authors hypothesized that lay theories of peace:

    1. Depend on whether one belongs to the high-power or low-power party. Associating peace with structural peace will be more prevalent among low-power vs. high-power group members, whereas associating peace with positive peace will be more prevalent among high-power compared to low-power group members.
    2. Explain citizens’ fundamental approaches to conflict resolution and across societies–the stronger the association of peace with positive peace or structural peace compared to negative peace, the stronger the wish to share rather than divide the land.


The researchers tested their hypotheses using data from 500 Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and 500 Jewish-Israelis residing in Israel. They assessed two parameters: (1) Associations of peace and (2) Preference for state solutions.

For the former, respondents rated on a Likert scale the extent to which they associated the following words/terms with the general concept of peace: justice, partnership, no war, equality, no bloodshed, harmony (1: no association with peace; 5: very strong association with peace).

For the latter, participants were asked to rate, on a scale from 1 to 6, how much they wished for “an agreement respected by both sides that will result in One State shared by Palestinians and Jews with equal rights” and how much they wished for “an agreement respected by both sides that will result in Two States, one for the Palestinians and one for the Jews”.


The authors concluded that relative to Jewish-Israelis, Palestinians were less prone to associate peace with positive peace and more prone to associate peace with structural peace (justice, equality).

By order of prevalence, lay theories of peace among members of the low-power group include 1) negative, 2) structural, and 3) positive interpretations. Among the high-power group, the order is 1) negative, 2) positive, and 3) structural interpretations. These results support the researchers’ hypotheses regarding the similarities and differences in the lay theories of peace held by high-power and low-power group members.

As for the second hypothesis, the authors concluded that associating peace with positive peace more than negative peace predicts higher wishes for one unified state. This especially holds true in the case of structural peace: When justice and equality are given importance, participants are more likely to want to share resources and space.

How This Translates for the Workplace

  1. Explore employees’ perception of peace- The authors emphasize that scholarly work has been focusing on what experts think peace is, while failing to explore how those paying the highest price from conflicts interpret the concept. Similarly, in a workplace, the management might have its best intentions while designing programs and interventions for peace, but they must build a practice of listening to the biggest stakeholders of these exercises- the employees. They must be curious about their employees’ perceptions and demands that will create peace- is it to have different departments, more interaction, more leaves, better pay, more meetings, or fewer meetings? How do they perceive organizational peace? Being in touch with their needs is the biggest deterrent to conflict and facilitator of resolution. Contact us for tips on how to better recognize employee needs.
  2. Find ways to reduce power asymmetry and hierarchies- The researchers introduced power asymmetry as a crucial factor necessary to analyze lay theories of peace and use as a predictor of how they want to solve their conflict. This emphasis on power asymmetry can help workplaces reduce conflict too, as inequality breeds conflict. If there are regular efforts to reduce structural inequality in any form–gender, race, religion, nationality, etc.–then the workplace is more likely to stay peaceful.
  3. Work on structural justice- The authors found that low-powered groups’ likelihood of believing in the one-state theory was higher if they believed in structural peace. This shows that if those who have been disadvantaged are offered justice and equality, rather than performative peace without any actual benefits, then they are more likely to want to share resources and coexist in the same space as the high-powered group. In the workplace, this means that employees who have felt that they were wronged or disadvantaged, need to be offered tangible support that helps them feel equal and important, in order for the workplace to retain them. Otherwise, if not offered dignified solutions, they are more likely to quit and join other firms. We at PPS offer training for workplaces in diversity, inclusion, as well as conflict resolution. Contact us to make your workplace more inclusive!

Anupriya Kukreja

Anupriya Kukreja is a graduate in Political Science and Psychology from Ashoka University in India. She has interned at Hospitals in their psychology departments and worked at reputed policy organizations, as well as been an Albright Fellow at Wellesley College. At PPS, she examines the latest research in international conflict and writes about how such methods may apply to conflict in the workplace. She is also a part of APA Division 48’s official Newsletter "The Peace Psychologist’s" editorial team. Her long-term career goal is to apply the lens of Behaviour science to Public Policy, Conflict Resolution, and Organizational Transformation.

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