An approach-approach conflict arises when there are two equally attractive objects, and an individual must choose between them. That person would like to choose both of them, but the two are incompatible.


Conflict is an intrapersonal or interpersonal contradiction perceived by an individual as a significant psychological problem that requires a decision. In 1935, Kurt Lewin, one of the founders of conflict resolution theory, proposed a typology of conflicts, which derives from the idea that a person can move in two opposing directions in decision-making – approach and avoidance. When these two behavioral tendencies confront each other, the person enters a situation of conflict.

Lewin identified three main types of conflicts: an approach-approach conflict, an avoidance-avoidance conflict, and an approach-avoidance conflict. When an approach-approach conflict occurs, a person must make a decision to leave the point of balance between two objectives.

An approach-approach conflict can be illustrated by the paradox of Buridan’s ass. This explanation was popularized by a French philosopher named Jean Buridan in the 14th century. In the story, a hungry donkey stumbles upon two identical bales of hay. Trying to decide which one to eat from, he realizes that the one to the left of him is precisely as far as away as the one on the right. So, which bale of hay does the donkey choose? Buridan argues that the donkey would not be able to make a decision and would starve to death between the two bales of hay because there were two potential outcomes for action, both with equal merit.

Another example of the approach-approach conflict can be seen when a woman must choose between two men she is equally attracted to. The choice of one means the loss of the other, which makes the woman anxious. However, as soon as she makes the first movement toward one man (or ‘goal’, in conflict resolution theory), his attractive force slightly increases, and the attractiveness of the other ‘goal’ decreases. As a result, as she approaches the ‘goal’, the woman more and more energetically strives for the man she has chosen.