The psychological logic of peace summits: How empathy shapes outcomes of diplomatic negotiations

Marcus Holmes, Keren Yarhi-Milo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Why do some peace summits succeed while others fail? We offer an explanation that highlights the importance of empathy between leaders. Studies in negotiations and psychology show that empathy-the ability to take the perspective of others and understand their cognitive and affective states without necessarily sympathizing with them-is critical in overcoming biases, transcending long-held enmities, and increasing the likelihood of cooperation. We show that empathy is perceptual in nature. Actors can convey it through both words and expressive behaviors in face-to-face interactions. From these, leaders gain an understanding of whether the other side is willing to negotiate in good faith and what a potential agreement might look like. Additionally, we argue that all is not lost if the leaders of warring states prove unable to cultivate these beliefs about each other. A skilled mediator can step in and build relational empathy between disputants. We assess the empirical ramifications of conveyed and relational empathy by comparing two of the most salient Middle East peace process summits with divergent outcomes: success at Camp David 1978 and failure in 2000.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-122
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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