Wherever people live together, conflicts arise: between individuals, between groups and between countries. How can those conflicts be managed, so that societies are organised on the basis of equality? What is the best strategy for getting both sides to accommodate each other’s interests? To answer these questions, we need well-substantiated knowledge of human behaviour. Researchers at Leiden University contribute to this knowledge base by studying the behaviour of individuals and groups in complex arenas and with conflicting interests. They conduct this research from the perspective of different disciplines within the social sciences: political science, anthropology and psychology.
Conflicting interests can be studied at various levels. Psychologists observe how individuals in a laboratory situation relate to the common good or to each other. They combine this with physiological research, to find a link between responses in the brain and the decisions that people make. Anthropologists go into the jungle and record what happens when the way of life of indigenous peoples is threatened by mining, or when their knowledge is stolen by Western companies. They use their expertise in such contexts as advising the Dutch government on buying sustainable timber, for example. Political scientists research the discussion about human rights between authoritarian states, international organisations and NGOs, seeking answers to such questions as how the various parties assert their rights. They talk to everyone concerned and discover that totalitarian regimes are becoming smarter in terms of gaining influence within international organisations. With this knowledge, scientists can pass on insights to diplomats and human rights activists to help them take the next tactical step.