New negotiation paper published in Collabra: Psychology

My co-authors Johann Majer, Hong Zhang, and Roman Trötschel and I are very excited that our paper entitled "Conflict strength: Measuring the tension between cooperative and competitive incentives in experimental negotiation tasks" has been published open access at Collabra: Psychology.

In this paper, we introduce the conflict strength coefficient. The conflict coefficient indicates how motivated negotiators in a given negotiation are to compete and how motivated they are to cooperate. Specifically, we compute the conflict coefficient for each individual negotiation as follows (read the paper for how each part of this equation is defined):

One of our findings is that most negotiation exercises used in the classroom and in the negotiations literature feature medium to high conflict coefficients. We established this by computing the conflict strength coefficient for 68 of the most commonly used negotiation exercises. Negotiators in these exercises are incentivized by medium to high levels of interpersonal conflict. The following graph nicely shows the distribution of conflict strength coefficients across all negotiation exercises we coded and for each subfield.

Density Plots of the Distribution of Conflict Strength Coefficients for the all negotiation exercises we coded and for individual subfields. Most negotiation cases have medium to high conflict coefficients (from 0=no interpersonal conflict & fully compatible interests to 1=high interpersonal conflict with diametrically opposed interests in zero-sum negotiation). 

How does our new paper contribute to the negotiations literature?

Multi-issue negotiation tasks are the predominant research paradigm in the experimental study of negotiation. According to previous research (Jang et al., 2018; Pruitt et al., 2012) and a literature review we conducted for this manuscript, they account for 26% to 30% of empirical studies in the negotiations field and therefore constitute the building blocks of this literature. Scholars have argued that the structure of incentives to cooperate and compete are the central element of these negotiation tasks (De Dreu & Carnevale, 2003; Kelley & Thibaut, 1978). However, currently no simple, objective, and quantifiable measure of the precise incentives in these negotiation tasks exists.

For more than 50 years, scholars have conceptualized experimental negotiation tasks as a simple dichotomy: construing them either as primarily integrative, or as primarily distributive. Scholars learn through trial-and-error which negotiation task is most likely to provide the results in line with their specific hypothesis. This is problematic because only experienced experimentalists have the tacit knowledge to evaluate which negotiation exercise to use for a given research question (Aronson et al., 1998). This lack of transparency in the experimental study of conflict management and negotiation enforces closed science practices and disadvantages two particularly vulnerable groups: early career researchers and scholars geographically distant from traditional, well-connected research groups. This tacit knowledge is primarily transferred through social interactions with senior scholars, and this excludes scholars who are geographically distant from elite research groups.

Our paper offers a methodological contribution to experimental negotiation research. We propose the conflict strength coefficient, a continuous, objective, and simple measure of the incentive structure of well-established multi-issue negotiation tasks. The conflict strength coefficient quantifies the proportion of cooperative incentives to competitive incentives in a given task in one simple number.

Our findings have a number of intriguing methodological and theoretical implications that can help scholars exert more experimental control and precision, better match real-world phenomena with structurally equivalent incentive structures, and facilitate transparency and open science practices.

We believe that the fine-grained conflict strength coefficient is particularly suitable and much-needed (Sebenius, 2015) to complement the common but simplified dichotomous distinction between distributive and integrative negotiations (Walton & McKersie, 1965).

Summary of our paper (abstract):

Conflict management scholars study mixed-motive negotiation situations with cooperative and competitive incentives predominantly through multi-issue negotiation tasks in experimental studies. Intriguingly, experimenters currently lack an objective, generalizable, and continuous measure that precisely quantifies the incentives underlying these negotiation tasks. We present the conflict strength coefficient, which enables scholars to systematically quantify the incentive structures in these multi-issue negotiation tasks. By making the incentive structures accessible and numerically comparable, the conflict strength coefficient provides new insights into the central element of the experimental study of negotiation and conflict management, unmasks differences across existing tasks, facilitates research transparency, knowledge sharing, and open science practices. We demonstrate the coefficient’s benefits by providing a hands-on example from past research, by reviewing and quantitatively assessing the current literature, and by mapping conflict strength coefficients for the negotiation and conflict management research landscape and its subareas. Our analysis suggests that the conflict strength coefficient can enrich the understanding of cooperative and competitive incentives in the established tasks and directly guide and support an individual scholar’s process of knowledge creation. The conflict strength coefficient provides a methodological contribution to the experimental study of conflict management and negotiation with immediate benefits for the production of scientific knowledge, the experimental study of real-world phenomena, and theory development.

Additional resources

To help other scholars implement the conflict strength coefficient into their own work we share our database and other helpful resources

  1. on the Open Science Framework:
  2. and on a dedicated website

Collabra is an open access journal so everyone can access the published version of our paper free of charge.


Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Brewer, M. B. (1998). Experimentation in social psychology. In The handbook of social psychology, Vols. 1-2, 4th ed. (pp. 99-142). McGraw-Hill.

De Dreu, C. K. W., & Carnevale, P. J. (2003). Motivational bases of information processing and strategy in conflict and negotiation. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 35, pp. 235-291). Academic Press.

Jang, D., Elfenbein, H. A., & Bottom, W. P. (2018). More than a phase: Form and features of a general theory of negotiation. Academy of Management Annals, 12(1), 318-356.

Kelley, H. H., & Thibaut, J. W. (1978). Interpersonal relations: A theory of interdependence. Wiley.

Pruitt, D. G. (2012). A history of social conflict and negotiation research. In A. W. Kruglanski & W. Stroebe (Eds.), Handbook of the history of social psychology (pp. 431–452). Psychology Press.

Sebenius, J. K. (2015). Why a behavioral theory of labor negotiations remains a triumph at fifty but the labels “distributive” and “integrative” should be retired. Negotiation Journal, 31(4), 335-347.

Walton, R. E., & McKersie, R. B. (1965). A behavioral theory of labor negotiations. McGraw-Hill.

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