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What goes wrong when talks break down

Nonlinear analysis explains how negotiations often fail

SANTA FE, N.M. — Sometimes negotiations appear to be going all right — and then somebody assassinates the High Peace Council chairman. A new way of simulating how groups make decisions combines social psychology and nonlinear mathematics, revealing how forces may unexpectedly conspire to send negotiations off the rails.

The approach captures the unpredictable nature of group decision making and might be used to predict which members of a jury, legislature or corporate board will be supporters or dissenters of a policy, or if consensus is even possible. It may also help explain how Burhanuddin Rabbani, a key figure in negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, ended up the victim of a suicide bomber in September 2011.  

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