Previously, we talked about what ‘factors of restraint’ are…read that post here! Today, we are going to talk about factors that inhibit the escalation of violence at the micro level.


Micro-level sources of restraint include people and other factors of change. At a personal level, individuals hold values and morals that lead them not to commit violence. Aside from personal codes of morality, violence may be seen as detrimental to one’s self interest as it invites revenge and disrupts inter-personal systems of mutual benefit.  These micro-levels of restraint are important because local actors are essential for the identification and sorting of victims, and are also often the key perpetrators of violence.

In terms of factors of change, Straus identifies both vertical and horizontal pressures. Vertical pressure – pressure from above or below – may include persuasion from a “legitimate authority” that can cause ordinary individuals to harm people for whom they have no previous hatred (Stanley Milgram’s social psychology experiment).  Horizontal pressure – pressure among civilians – allows that when people have power over others, they may use it to harm those they hold power over (Stanford Prison Experiment).

Ultimately, Straus argues that when individuals fear for their lives, or face horizontal or vertical pressure, they may turn to violence.

So, what does this mean for us at STAND?

We can’t influence how individuals on the other side of the world live their day to day lives…or can we? Key here are the factors of change mentioned above, because we CAN stop some vertical pressures by holding governments (or other “legitimate authority”) accountable for human rights violations and things that may be pre-genocidal. We can also help to stop horizontal factors of change by recognizing that genocide is not an isolated phenomenon in the sphere of global affairs. Research on individual and group violence shows that certain physical or material conditions can place individuals is situations in which it is easier to self-justify violence because of perceived threats to survival. It’s a tall order, but stopping genocide may also be tied together with ending poverty, promoting education, and other development goals! So let’s collaborate with our NGO brothers and sisters, and work together to influence these micro level factors of restraint!


Scott Straus, “Retreating from the Brink: Theorizing Mass Violence and the Dynamics of Restraint,” Perspectives on Politics 10, no. 2 (June 2012): 343.

Neekoo Collett is a Master of Global Affairs students at the Munk School, University of Toronto. Her research focuses on “factors of restraint” and the situation of Baha’is in Iran, as well as the politics of genocide language and the proposed Crimes Against Humanity Convention. This post is adapted from previously published work. 

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“What Stops Genocide From Occurring?” by Neekoo Collett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.