Here's another item from the ASWB exam content outline worth of look: theories of conflict. It's in the HBSE section of a social work exam--it seems safe to assume that exam questions will be about psychological theories of conflict, not general ones (eg game theory or others having more to do with international relations). 

Don't waste time making flash cards for any of these. Just give them a quick once-over and hope they stick just enough to help you on an exam question, should one come up. (A practice question finishes off this post--so you'll be seeing at least one question based on this content.)

Psychological theories of conflict explore the individual and group factors that contribute to the emergence and escalation of conflicts. These theories aim to understand the underlying psychological processes, motivations, and behaviors that drive conflicts. Here are some key psychological theories of conflict:

  • Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis: This theory, originally proposed by John Dollard and others, posits that frustration (when an individual is blocked from achieving a desired goal) can lead to aggression, which may manifest as conflict. Frustration does not always result in aggression, but it increases the likelihood of hostile reactions.

  • Social Identity Theory: Developed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner, social identity theory suggests that people categorize themselves and others into various social groups based on shared characteristics like race, religion, or nationality. In-group favoritism and out-group discrimination can lead to intergroup conflicts, as individuals derive part of their self-esteem from their group memberships.

  • Realistic Conflict Theory: This theory, proposed by Muzafer Sherif, focuses on how competition for limited resources can lead to conflict between groups. When groups perceive that they are in competition for the same resources, it can result in hostility and conflict.

  • Psychodynamic Theories: Psychodynamic theories, such as those proposed by Sigmund Freud, explore the role of unconscious motives and desires in conflict. Freud's ideas, for example, suggest that unresolved psychological conflicts within an individual can be projected onto others, contributing to interpersonal conflicts.

  • Cognitive Dissonance Theory: Developed by Leon Festinger, cognitive dissonance theory suggests that individuals experience discomfort when holding contradictory beliefs or engaging in contradictory actions. This discomfort can lead to cognitive and emotional conflicts, motivating individuals to reduce dissonance through attitude change or behavior modification.

  • Contact Hypothesis: The contact hypothesis, proposed by Gordon Allport, suggests that intergroup conflicts can be reduced through positive and cooperative interactions between members of different groups. It highlights the role of contact in breaking down stereotypes and reducing prejudice.

  • In-Group and Out-Group Dynamics: Conflict can be driven by the categorization of individuals into in-groups (those with whom one identifies) and out-groups (those perceived as different or threatening). In-group members may display favoritism, while out-group members are often subjected to discrimination or hostility.

  • Attribution Theory: Attribution theory focuses on how individuals interpret and explain the causes of events, including conflicts. The way people attribute blame or responsibility can affect their reactions to conflicts and the actions they take.

  • Conflict Resolution Theories: Psychological theories of conflict also include approaches to conflict resolution. These theories, such as the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, suggest various strategies for resolving conflicts, ranging from avoidance and accommodation to competition and collaboration.

Free Practice Question

Did you soak that up? Here's a (sort of) related question.

A client is experiencing persistent conflicts with their family members and is unable to maintain healthy relationships. The client often exhibits behavior patterns that suggest unresolved unconscious conflicts. According to psychodynamic theory, which concept is most likely to be central to the client's conflicts?

A) The Oedipus complex

B) Libido

C) Fixation

D) Ego defense mechanisms

Have you answer? The terms may all look familiar--but they can't all be correct.

In psychodynamic theory, conflicts often stem from unresolved unconscious conflicts and the use of ego defense mechanisms to manage these conflicts. These mechanisms are strategies the ego employs to protect itself from anxiety resulting from unresolved conflicts. They can lead to behaviors that affect relationships and interactions with others. D is the correct answer.

Got it? Great.

Now really get ready for the test with Social Work Test Prep's full-length practice exams.

Take Me There Now.

October 17, 2023
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