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Psychology and Security  

Jonathan Mercer

Psychology plays a key role in the success of strategy and is therefore important to the study of international security. There are four general approaches to the psychology of strategy. The first focuses on personality, and more specifically on individual differences, cognition, and the use of evolutionary psychology and neuroscience to investigate human nature. The second approach draws on deterrence theory, which considers how an actor can keep a target from doing something it would otherwise do. A political psychological perspective on deterrence consists of three elements. First, psychological approaches to deterrence reject stimulus–response models and instead lay emphasis on understanding cognition and emotion. Second, deterrence is a policy rather than a philosophy. Third, whereas normative theories explain how one ought to behave (and thus cannot be disconfirmed by evidence), psychological theories change in response to new evidence, such as with the development of prospect theory. The third aspect of strategic interaction involves learning and intelligence assessments. Based on this approach, how people learn, what they are likely to learn, and the problems of assessing the intentions and capabilities of others are central to strategy. The fourth and final approach is concerned with the strategy of group conflict, which has generated two waves of research: the first analyzed how material inequality or competition for resources gives rise to psychological forces that result in group cooperation and between-group competition, and the second added nonmaterial causes to explain group relations.