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Psychological Factors and Foreign Policy Decision-Making. PO 326: American Foreign Policy . Psychology as Theoretical Augmentation. Each of the three perspectives we have studied posits that the “personalities” of foreign policy actors can shape their actions

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psychology as theoretical augmentation
Psychology as Theoretical Augmentation
  • Each of the three perspectives we have studied posits that the “personalities” of foreign policy actors can shape their actions
  • The psychological perspective, more any of the other three, allows for a systematic understanding of how some personality attributes shape the actions of individuals
  • The psychological perspective also allows analysts to identify and correct other explanatory failures and shortcomings of the three perspectives (e.g., impact of perception on rational choice)
the psychological perspective of human behavior
The Psychological Perspective of Human Behavior
  • Individual Psychology:
  • The study of the individual mind, or of what mental impetuses cause individuals to do what they do
  • Generally, individuals act based on the need to equilibrate their mental states
    • Their actions in the outside world reflect their desire to make that world easier for them to comprehend
    • Individuals may also act to satisfy a perceived void in their psyche which is created by past experience
the psychological perspective of human behavior4
The Psychological Perspective of Human Behavior
  • Group Psychology:
  • Individual psychological attributes are important factors in the conduct and eventual products of group interactions
  • Specifically, an individual’s psychological needs (e.g., belonging, acceptance, self-worth) can determine the content or extent of their group involvement
  • When interacted with the needs of other group members, these needs can also work to influence the eventual decisions reached by a group
  • Further, the psychological rewards that group membership provides (belonging, etc.) may cause members to view other groups with suspicion, which in turn colors the group’s decisions regarding other entities (related to parochialism)
how does psychology affect foreign policy decision making
How Does Psychology Affect Foreign Policy Decision-Making?
  • We will focus mainly on three facets of the interaction of psychology and foreign policy:
    • How psychological factors can cause actors to ignore or misinterpret international events and signals (unmotivated bias in cognition and signaling)
    • How psychological factors can substantively bias actors’ attitudes, especially toward other international actors (motivated bias in cognition and signaling)
    • How psychological factors can impact high-level foreign policy decision-making in groups (groupthink)
unmotivated bias in foreign policy cognition
Unmotivated Bias in Foreign Policy - Cognition
  • Derives from the observation that the world is complex, and that understanding can only be achieved by viewing the outside world with internally constructed “heuristics”
  • Decision-makers fit incoming information into existing theories/images generated by previous experience (cognitive dissonance)
    • Misperception of events or of the intentions of others is less likely when individual concepts exist to make understanding easier
    • Reliance upon existing concepts colors thinking (e.g., Pearl Harbor analogy in CMC)
    • Decision-makers sometimes do not recognize that events validating their images can also validate other images (e.g., Vietnamese communism perceived as threat to US way of life, not vehicle by which revolution could be achieved)
unmotivated bias in foreign policy cognition7
Unmotivated Bias in Foreign Policy - Cognition
  • Decision-makers are wedded to the established view and generally closed to new information
    • Example: European attitudes toward Nazi Germany in late 1930s
  • Contradictory information is more easily assimilated when it comes in small amounts and not all at once
    • Example: Nazi invasion of Soviet Union in 1941
unmotivated bias in foreign policy signaling
Unmotivated Bias in Foreign Policy - Signaling
  • Messages sent from individuals with different concerns and backgrounds are likely to be misunderstood
    • Careful formulation of decisions/messages are assumed by sender to be clear, but often are not received as such (e.g., Kennedy’s national address and Khrushchev’s initial reaction)
    • Failure to conceal intentions often taken as clear transmission of those intentions (e.g., American diplomacy leading up to First Gulf War)
    • In general, actions intended to convey a signal are not received as such
motivated bias in foreign policy
Motivated Bias in Foreign Policy
  • Tendency to see other states as more hostile than they actually are (security dilemma)
  • Tendency to believe that more hostile states do not share the same values, and that more friendly ones necessarily do
  • Tendency to see other states as more centralized, disciplined, and coordinated than they actually are (e.g., linkage of likely Soviet actions to high-level decisions)
  • Tendency to overestimate the degree to which favorable behavior is a result of one’s own actions, while attributing intransigence to the internal forces of the other (e.g., success of quarantine vs. Khrushchev’s second letter)
  • Foreign office’s position often taken as sole position of the other state
groupthink
“Groupthink”
  • As key political decisions are often made in small groups, psychological group dynamics can influence outcomes
  • High degree of cohesion results in desire to produce consensus
    • Desires of individuals to avoid espousing unpopular beliefs and avoiding sole responsibility for implementing unpopular decisions drives them to avoid conflict
    • What often results is “playing up” of majority opinion (sometimes by engaging in wishful thinking), ignorance of unpopular though useful alternatives
    • CMC – JFK strove for consensus, but worked hard to avoid groupthink (not present at all meetings, several possible alternatives)
    • *CIA in lead-up to Iraq – according to 9/11 Commission and Congress, the omnipresent notion that Iraq had WMD blinded the CIA to apparently contradictory evidence
risk experiment
RISK EXPERIMENT
  • Illustration of psychological “prospect theory”
  • Question 1: If given a choice, would you rather accept 4 free extra credit points, or take the chance of guessing the outcome of a coin toss, with 8 extra credit points resulting from a correct call and 0 points resulting from an incorrect call?
  • Question 2: If given a choice, would you rather accept a certain deduction of 4 points from your final grade, or would you take the chance of guessing the outcome of a coin toss, with a deduction of 0 points from your final grade resulting from a correct call and a deduction of 8 points from your final grade resulting from an incorrect call?
  • Importance of loss aversion
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