Colleague Scott Atran cites Axelrod's work on symbolic gestures in Middle East conflicts

May 22, 2012

Robert Axelrod was cited in an op-ed for Science and Religion Today titled, "How Can a Better Understanding of Sacred Values Help Us Resolve Intergroup Conflicts?" The op-ed was written by Scott Atran, a research scientist at the University's Research Center for Group Dynamics and a frequent collaborator of Axelrod's.

According to Atran, "work with political scientist Robert Axelrod among political leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere indicates that strong symbolic gestures (sincere apologies, demonstrating respect for the other's values) generate surprising flexibility, even among militants and political leaders, and may enable subsequent material negotiations. For example, we find that Palestinian leaders and their supporting populations are generally willing to accept Israeli offers of economic improvement only after issues of recognition are addressed."

In June 2010, Axelrod, the Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding, and Atran wrote an op-ed for the New York Times defending their right as social scientists to interview members of U.S.-classified terrorist organizations to better understand how to end intractable conflicts. The U.S. Supreme Court had just ruled such conversations constituted "material support" for foreign terrorist organizations.