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Kurt, Levent; Kugler, Katharina G. ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3856-1773; Coleman, Peter T. and Liebovitch, Larry S. (2014): Behavioral and Emotional Dynamics of Two People Struggling to Reach Consensus about a Topic on Which They Disagree.
In: PLOS ONE 9(1), e84608 [PDF, 1MB]

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We studied the behavioral and emotional dynamics displayed by two people trying to resolve a conflict. 59 groups of two people were asked to talk for 20 minutes to try to reach a consensus about a topic on which they disagreed. The topics were abortion, affirmative action, death penalty, and euthanasia. Behavior data were determined from audio recordings where each second of the conversation was assessed as proself, neutral, or prosocial. We determined the probability density function of the durations of time spent in each behavioral state. These durations were well fit by a stretched exponential distribution, exp(kt(-a)) with an exponent, a, of approximately 0.3. This indicates that the switching between behavioral states is not a random Markov process, but one where the probability to switch behavioral states decreases with the time already spent in that behavioral state. The degree of this "memory" was stronger in those groups who did not reach a consensus and where the conflict grew more destructive than in those that did. Emotion data were measured by having each person listen to the audio recording and moving a computer mouse to recall their negative or positive emotional valence at each moment in the conversation. We used the Hurst rescaled range analysis and power spectrum to determine the correlations in the fluctuations of the emotional valence. The emotional valence was well described by a random walk whose increments were uncorrelated. Thus, the behavior data demonstrated a "memory" of the duration already spent in a behavioral state while the emotion data fluctuated as a random walk whose steps did not have a "memory" of previous steps. This work demonstrates that statistical analysis, more commonly used to analyze physical phenomena, can also shed interesting light on the dynamics of processes in social psychology and conflict management.

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