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date: 25 September 2020

Summary and Keywords

Milton Friedman and Herbert Simon introduced two opposing “schools” of thought in decision-making: the “rational actor” approach and the “cognitive approach,” respectively. Friedman argued that theories should be judged based on the validity of their predictions (“outcome validity”), whereas Simon countered that more emphasis must be placed on “process validity.” Seeking to bridge the gap between the cognitive and rational approaches, in the early 1990s Alex Mintz and colleagues developed poliheuristic theory. The theory is based on five main processing characteristics of decision-making: nonholistic search, dimension-based processing, noncompensatory decision rules, satisficing behavior, and order-sensitive search. A key premise of poliheuristic theory is its reference to the political aspects of decision making in a foreign policy context. Poliheuristic theory is related to Applied Decision Analysis (ADA), an analytic procedure which can be applied to all levels of analysis in foreign policy decision-making: the leader, the group and the coalition. As a bridge between rational and cognitive decision models, poliheuristic theory is uniquely positioned to contribute to progress in the study of world politics. Indeed, despite being relatively new to the discipline of foreign policy analysis, it has enriched our understanding of both the process of decision-making and the outcome of decisions, for example, or the diversionary use of force, international bargaining and negotiation, coalition formation, and terrorists’ decisions. A number of avenues deserve attention in future research on poliheuristic theory, in particularl the use of a more decision-theoretic dataset for investigating its basic proposition as well as more large-N methodological studies.

Keywords: rational actor approach, cognitive approach, outcome validity, process validity, Alex Mintz, poliheuristic theory, foreign policy decision-making, dimension-based processing, satisficing behavior, Applied Decision Analysis

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