PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS AND FOREIGN POLICY DECISIONMAKING

PO 326: American Foreign Policy

. more any of the other three.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.g. 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. impact of perception on rational choice) .

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 . or of what mental impetuses cause individuals to do what they do Generally.The Psychological Perspective of Human Behavior • Individual Psychology: The study of the individual mind.

etc.g. an individual’s psychological needs (e. belonging. which in turn colors the group’s decisions regarding other entities (related to parochialism) . these needs can also work to influence the eventual decisions reached by a group Further.) may cause members to view other groups with suspicion.The Psychological Perspective of Human Behavior • Group Psychology: Individual psychological attributes are important factors in the conduct and eventual products of group interactions Specifically. self-worth) can determine the content or extent of their group involvement When interacted with the needs of other group members. acceptance. the psychological rewards that group membership provides (belonging..

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 ۞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. 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) .g.

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 .

Kennedy’s national address and Khrushchev’s initial reaction) • Failure to conceal intentions often taken as clear transmission of those intentions (e. actions intended to convey a signal are not received as such .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. American diplomacy leading up to First Gulf War) • In general.g.g... but often are not received as such (e.

. and that more friendly ones necessarily do Tendency to see other states as more centralized..g. Khrushchev’s second letter) Foreign office’s position often taken as sole position of the other state . success of quarantine vs. 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. and coordinated than they actually are (e. while attributing intransigence to the internal forces of the other (e. disciplined.g.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.

“Groupthink” • As key political decisions are often made in small groups. ignorance of unpopular though useful alternatives • CMC – JFK strove for consensus. but worked hard to avoid groupthink (not present at all meetings. 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). 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 • Illustration of psychological “prospect theory” • Question 1: If given a choice. 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 . would you rather accept a certain deduction of 4 points from your final grade. or take the chance of guessing the outcome of a coin toss. would you rather accept 4 free extra credit points. with 8 extra credit points resulting from a correct call and 0 points resulting from an incorrect call? • Question 2: If given a choice. or would you take the chance of guessing the outcome of a coin toss.