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Psychology and Decision making in Foreign Policy January 28, 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Psychology and Decision making in Foreign Policy January 28, 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Psychology and Decision making in Foreign Policy January 28, 2014

2 Overview Commonsensical understandings of rationality  Ideal and limits Psychological models: the ‘cognitive revolution’ Neuroscience, emotion, and computation

3 Why rationality? Traditional approaches to IR  Decisions “should” be made rationally  Foreign policy actors all assumed to be rational actors

4 Commonsensical understanding of rationality: two models 1) Rational decision-making: the process that people “should” use to make choices: intuitively ranked preferences effectively pay attention to, evaluate and adapt to new information weigh consequences logical and discriminating, while open to new evidence (in their choices) coherent and consistent in responding to logical arguments.

5 2) Subjective probability estimates: even more demanding version of rationality that expects decision makers to be able effectively estimate probabilities:  Generate estimates of the consequences of their choices based opinions and past experience (no formal calculations)  Update these estimates with new evidence  Work maximize their expected utility (benefit)

6 Appeal of using rational choice models Help identify the choice leaders “should” make Assume actors all use instrumental rationality, so… Don’t have to worry about leaders’ preferences or expectations

7 Limits of commonsensical understanding of rationality Can’t explain the beliefs and expectations which lead to choice,  a crucial missing variable in explaining foreign policy Don’t help much in understanding the process of foreign policy decision-making because unfortunately evidence shows we rarely make decisions that way.

8 Must examine the limits to rationality Evidence from psychology and neuroscience challenges the fundamental tenets of the rational model:  Humans rarely conform to ‘rational’ expectations

9 Psychological models: the ‘cognitive revolution’ Four attributes compromise humans’ capacity for rational choice: 1. Simplicity 2. Consistency 3. Poor estimators 4. Loss aversion

10 Simplicity In order to make complex decision, decision makers need to find ways to order and simplify information Use of analogies and analogical reasoning is common tool to help simplify things  Tendency to draw simple one-to-one analogies without qualifying conditions Implications for FP?

11 Simplicity Problem - we tend to be very bad at oversimplifying  Lose the nuances and subtleties of the context  Pushes other options of the table and can blind decision makers to possible consequences of their choice

12 Example First Iraq war (1991) Saddam as Hitler Provides script for how to respond to invasion of Kuwait But doesn’t allow for examination of how to situations are different.

13 Consistency Idea that people don’t like inconsistency, so have tendency to discount or deny inconsistent information in order preserve their beliefs Counter evidence can actually harden the original belief “I wasn’t almost wrong, I was almost right”

14 Tetlock & belief system defences Argue that local conditions didn’t meet conditions required for the prediction  prediction not wrong the conditions weren’t right Invoking the unexpected occurrence of a shock  prediction wasn’t the problem, the unexpected occurred Close-call: I was almost right

15 Tetlock & belief system defences Timing was off  Prediction was just ahead of time, history will show it was correct International politics is unpredictable  Problem isn’t the prediction, just the nature of IR Made the “right mistake” and would do it again Unlikely things sometimes happen

16 More confident the person is in the prediction, the more threatening counter evidence is More likely to resort to one the 7 belief system defences  ‘defensive cognitions’ Implications for FP?

17 Implications from consistency When most need to revise their judgements is exactly when they may be least open to it. E.g. US decision makers during Vietnam war

18 Solutions to consistency People tend to change their beliefs incrementally  Make the smallest change possible Counter evidence hardest to ignore when comes in large batches  Can’t ignore this and can cause dramatic shifts Beliefs with relatively short-term consequences are easier to change Implications for FP?

19 Poor estimators Tendency to think causally rather than pay attention to the frequency of events  E.g. - easy to imagine the causal pathway to war so tend to overestimate its likelihood Don’t like uncertainty so tend to seek false certainty

20 Use ‘heuristics’- short cuts, “rules of thumb” to make it easier to process information:  Availability - tendency to interpret based on what is most available in their cognitive repertoire  Representativeness- tendency to exaggerate similarities between one event and another  Anchoring - grab on to an initial value and stick to it

21 Fundamental attribution error- tendency to exaggerate the importance of the other’s disposition in explaining something they did, while explaining own behaviour based on situational constraints  I.e. their bad behaviour is because they are bad people, our bad behaviour is because of the situation we were in hindsight bias- misremember what we predicted to be closer to the outcome than it was Implications for FP?

22 Loss aversion Tendency to see loss as more painful than a comparable gain is pleasant So overvalue losses compared to gains Willing to take greater risks to reverse a loss  Relatively risk adverse when things are going good and relatively risk acceptant when things are going badly Implications for foreign policy?

23 Neuroscience, emotion, and computation New imaging technology of the human brain suggests that many decisions are not the result of deliberative thought processes, but the product of 1. preconscious neurological processes 2. strong emotional responses Both incorporate subconscious actions and decisions in progress, with the conscious brain playing catch-up

24 Impact on foreign policy decision- making Reflective, deliberative, rational decision- making (underlying much in FPA) fits poorly with the cumulative body of evidence of how humans choose. Emotion precedes conditions and follows choice; they influence decisions  we feel before we think and often act before we think Choice is a conflict between emotion and computation.

25 Emotional vs cognitive decision-making Emotion-based system of decision-making (intuitive): preconscious, automatic, fast, effortless, associative, unreflective, slow to change Cognitive decision-making(reasoned): conscious, slow, effortful, reflective, rule- governed, flexible Vast majority of decisions made via emotional system; and tough for cognitive to ‘educate’ the emotional

26 ‘The Ultimatum Game’: How would you choose?

27 ‘The Ultimatum Game’ The game has been played across a wide range of situations and cultures, and player 2 rejected less than 20% of the total offers because it found the offer humiliating.

28 Fear and anger in decisions Research demonstrates: fear prompts uncertainty and risk-averse action, anger prompts certainty and risk- acceptance. Implications for FP?

29 Conclusion Rational decision-making useful as: an aspiration or norm, aware that foreign policy makers rarely meet that norm contains counter-intuitive and non- obvious paradoxes that would be instructive if known by decision-makers

30 Conclusion Can still use rational models, but need to use them with evidence from psychology and neuroscience. Policy leaders need to be aware of the dynamics of choice. Foreign policymakers are no less biased than other people, whose choice-making is preconscious and strongly influenced by emotion.

31 Conclusion Learning and change is still possible  We aren’t hostage to these tendencies Key challenge is to understand, far better, how and when emotions are engaged, when they improve decisions, and how emotions engage with reflection and reasoning.

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