Rüdiger F. Pohl and Edgar Erdfelder
Hindsight bias describes the tendency of persons—after the outcome of an event is known—to overestimate their foresight. For example, following a political election, persons tend to retrospectively adjust their predictions to the actual outcome. These judgment distortions are very robust and have been observed in a variety of domains and tasks. About 50 years of research on hindsight bias have meanwhile brought a wealth of findings and insights. Core research questions are (1) how to explain hindsight bias in terms of underlying processes, (2) whether there are individual differences in susceptibility, (3) how the bias possibly impedes decision-making in applied contexts, such as political decision-making, and (4) how possibly to overcome it. Theoretical approaches suggest that there are distinct components of hindsight bias, and that several, mainly cognitive, mechanisms are responsible for them. Using stochastic models of hindsight bias allows us to estimate the relative proportions of these mechanisms. Depending on the task, motivational factors may also exert their influence. In addition, the strength of hindsight bias appears to be related to some personality traits and also to age. For example, some authors found that hindsight bias tends to increase with the tendency toward favorable self-presentation and to decrease with intelligence. Moreover, lifespan studies have shown that children and older adults show larger hindsight bias than young adults. Hindsight bias has been found in political decision-making (as well as in other applied domains). Surprisingly, attempts to overcome hindsight bias have mainly failed, whereas only a few debiasing techniques show promising results. In sum, one important conclusion is to be continuously aware of the potentially distorting influence of outcome knowledge on the evaluation of our own (or other’s) prior knowledge state.
K. Amber Curtis and Laura R. Olson
Religion is among the most powerful forces in the world and therefore one of the most prominent sources of both individual and group identification. Because of this, scholars have spent decades attempting to pinpoint its impact on numerous psychological, social, and political outcomes. A review of extant work shows religion in general (and religious identity in particular) affects mental and physical health; social relations, outgroup hostility, and conflict; and political attitudes and behavior.
Importantly, however, the social scientific study of religion has conceptualized and operationalized religious “identity” along different lines: sociologists and political scientists typically define it as religious affiliation (assessed demographically or by self-placement into nominal religious categories) or religiosity (based on one’s frequency of worship attendance and/or how personally “important” one feels religion is), while social psychologists show greater interest in how psychologically central religion is to one’s self-concept. These distinct approaches underscore that scholars have both meant disparate things by their usage of “identity” and “identification,” as well as measured each term in nonequivalent ways. Moving forward, greater interdisciplinary dialogue—and ideally the establishment of a common metric—would be beneficial in order to better isolate why religion is a more central social identity for some people than others; the extent to which identification with religion overlaps with religiosity; where religious identity fits in among the multitude of identity options with which citizens are confronted; and how the determinants of strong versus weak religious identification vary across person, context, and religious tradition.
People are strongly motivated to maintain psychological security, or equanimity, which causes them to process and act on information in ways that are favorable to protecting against anxiety (i.e., psychological “defense”). People rely on at least three interlocking mechanisms to maintain security—investment in social relationships, self-esteem, and meaningful worldviews—and these mechanisms perfuse nearly every aspect of life. By consequence, people’s political beliefs, attitudes, and leadership preferences reflect motivated efforts to maintain security. Research derived from terror management theory and related theories of security maintenance shows that security needs influence political decision making in three major ways. First, they amplify people’s affinity for political stances that affirm their preexisting worldviews and bolster their sense of belongingness, affiliation, and esteem. Second, security needs tend to draw people toward conservative viewpoints; however, a more potent consequence might be to harden or polarize existing political stances. Finally, security needs cause attraction to charismatic and powerful political personalities (i.e., politicians). Although the theoretical basis for these conclusions is strong, and there is research to support them, it remains challenging to apply this analysis to specific persons, situations, and political issues because it is not always clear which security-relevant facets within complex circumstances will be most salient or influential. Nevertheless, a security-based analysis of political decision making has impressive explanatory potential and helps observers to understand polarization and “tribal” tendencies in politics, among other things.
Soli Vered and Daniel Bar-Tal
Intractable conflicts are demanding, stressful, painful, exhausting, and costly both in human and material terms. In order to adapt to these conditions, societies engaged in such protracted, violent conflict develop an appropriate socio-psychological infrastructure that eventually becomes the foundation for the development of culture of conflict. The infrastructure fulfills important functions for the societies involved, yet stands also as a major socio-psychological barrier to peaceful resolution of the conflict. Transforming the nature of the relations between two societies that were in hostile and violent rivalry requires a dramatic societal change of replacing the socio-psychological repertoire among society members and establishing a new culture of peace. This process of peacemaking is very long and extremely challenging; however, if successful, the past rival sides may establish stable and lasting peaceful relations.
Stephen Benedict Dyson and Thomas Briggs
Political Science accounts of international politics downplay the role of political leaders, and a survey of major journals reveals that fewer than 3% of all articles focus on leaders. This is in stark contrast to public discourse about politics, where leadership influence over events is regarded as a given.
This article suggests that, at a minimum, leaders occupy a space in fully specified chains of causality as the aggregators of material and ideational forces, and the transmitters of those forces into authoritative political action. Further, on occasion a more important role is played by the leader: as a crucial causal variable aggregating material and ideational energies in an idiosyncratic fashion and thereby shaping decisions and outcomes.
The majority of the article is devoted to surveying the comparatively small literature on political leaders within International Relations scholarship. The article concludes by inviting our colleagues to be receptive to the idiosyncrasies, as well as the regularities, of statespersonship.
Hajo G. Boomgaarden and Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck
Media are key for the functioning of democracy. It is the essential link between politics and citizens, providing critical information and interpretation of politics and room for debate. Given this central role of the media for democratic political processes, questions about how mediated political information would affect citizens’ perceptions of and attitudes toward politics, as well as ultimately political behavior, have been dominant in research in the field of political communication. While vast amounts of mid-range theories and empirical insights speak in favor of influences of media on citizens, there is little in terms of a universal theoretical framework guiding political media effects research, which makes it difficult to give a conclusive answer to the question: how and, in particular, how much do the media matter? It may matter for some people under some conditions in some contexts relating to some outcome variables. Technological changes in media systems pose additional challenges, both conceptually and methodologically, to come to comprehensive assessments of media influences on citizens’ political cognitions, attitudes, or behaviors. Research needs to be clearer as to which conceptualization of media is followed and how such conceptualization may interact with other dimensions of media attributes. Measurement of media use and reception needs to take into account the increasing complexities of how citizens encounter political information, and it requires alignment with the conceptualization of media. Political media effect theories should not continue developing side by side, but should attempt to find a place in a more comprehensive model and take into account how they relate to and possibly interact with other approaches. In sum, the field of political media effects, while vast and covering a range of aspects, would do well to consider its role and purpose in increasingly complex media environments and, accordingly, provide more integrative perspectives, conceptually, methodologically, and theoretically.
Eran Halperin and Noa Schori-Eyal
Moral emotions such as guilt, shame, and pride play a central role in motivating and regulating many of people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When moral emotions are experienced on behalf of one’s group, they can have a deep impact on intergroup relations as well, particularly in situations of intergroup conflict. If society members feel that they, due to their association with the group, are responsible for the disproportional and illegitimate suffering of outgroup members, they may experience moral emotions like guilt and shame. These emotional responses can potentially motivate society members to enact a range of political response tendencies, varying from pure defensiveness, resulting in opposition to any relevant compromise, to sincere willingness to offer an apology or to compensate the outgroup.
Of these group-based emotions, guilt has the greatest potential to contribute to the amelioration of intergroup relations in violent, protracted conflicts. Group-based guilt requires the fulfillment of several conditions, including perceived responsibility for the offense; a specific composition or level of identification with the transgressing group; and appraisal of the guilt-inducing action as unjust, immoral or unfair. Group-based guilt is not a prevalent emotion, and various defense mechanisms are frequently employed to curb it. However, when it does arise the experience of guilt in the name of the group can be an important factor in motivating individuals to support policies aimed at compensating victimized groups and their society, either through material reparations or more symbolic gestures such as formal apologies for the harm incurred. Guilt-driven ameliorative actions such as formal apologies or monetary compensation are an important step towards conflict resolution and reconciliation. While up-regulation of group-based guilt is a challenging process, several research directions demonstrate that this emotion can be induced and harnessed to promote conflict resolution and more harmonious intergroup relations.
Toby Bolsen and Risa Palm
Motivated reasoning is a pervasive force in politics. The concept of motivated reasoning was developed and elaborated in both psychology and economics as a way of understanding the way in which people learn and respond to information, and as a mechanism to explain behavior that is seen as less than optimal. It has been important in political science since the early 2000s. Political scientists initially connected the distinct constructs of motivated reasoning with online information processing, given the affective, unconscious, and automatic bases of both processes, but they later distinguished cognitive effort and processing style from underlying goals or motivation. Most research on motivated reasoning in political science focuses on two primary motivations: accuracy and directional goals. An accuracy motivation is defined by reasoning that seeks to arrive at a conclusion that is free from error given the information at hand, whereas a directional goal is defined by a desire to protect one’s existing beliefs or identities. Much of the early research on motivated reasoning in political science painted citizens as incapable of evaluating information objectively, and, to make matters worse, citizens’ processing biases appeared to increase with political knowledge, interest, and the strength of existing political beliefs. A second generation of research on motivated reasoning identified individual-level and contextual factors that moderated or eliminated directional biases. Scholars developed a better understanding of how motivations rooted in partisan identity affect information interpretation, evaluation, and decision-making, as well how different information environments can shift the motivations that citizens pursue when they are reasoning about politics. The pursuit of an accuracy motivation in political reasoning is now considered a realistic and attainable standard for evaluating citizen competence in democratic societies that avoids many of the pitfalls of past attempts to define the quality of citizens’ reasoning capacities.
Victor Ottati and Chase Wilson
Dogmatic or closed-minded cognition is directionally biased; a tendency to select, interpret, and elaborate upon information in a manner that reinforces the individual’s prior opinion or expectation. Open-minded cognition is directionally unbiased; a tendency to process information in a manner that is not biased in the direction of the individual’s prior opinion or expectation. It is marked by a tendency to consider a variety of intellectual perspectives, values, attitudes, opinions, or beliefs—even those that contradict the individual’s prior opinion. Open-Minded Cognition is assessed using measures that specifically focus on the degree to which individuals process information in a directionally biased manner. Open-Minded Cognition can function as an individual difference characteristic that predicts a variety of social attitudes and political opinions. These include attitudes toward marginalized social groups (e.g., racial and ethnic minorities), support for democratic values, political ideology, and partisan identification. Open-Minded Cognition also possesses a malleable component that varies across domains and specific situations. For example, Open-Minded Cognition is higher in the political domain than religious domain. In addition, Open-Minded Cognition is prevalent in situations where individuals encounter plausible arguments that are compatible with conventional values, but is less evident when individuals encounter arguments that are extremely implausible or that contradict conventional values. Within a situation, Open-Minded Cognition also varies across social roles involving expertise. Because political novices possess limited political knowledge, social norms dictate that they should listen and learn in an open-minded fashion. In contrast, because political experts possess extensive knowledge, social norms dictate that they are entitled to adopt a more dogmatic cognitive orientation when listening to a political communication.
Marcus M. Weymiller and Christopher W. Larimer
“Decision outcomes” refers to mass political behavior as well as decisions by elites in the policy arena. Such outcomes are naturally the product of the decision-making process, a process that has been informed considerably by research in areas outside of political science. Political and policy processes are less defined by rational responses to incoming information than by pre-existing cognitive biases favoring narratives, stories, and symbols. Thus, to accurately understand decision outcomes requires an interdisciplinary approach, and, indeed, the discipline of political science has increasingly incorporated insights from psychology, social psychology, sociology, behavioral economics, and other social and natural sciences. Decision outcomes may reflect the true preferences of decision-makers, but behavior and outcomes have also been shown to change dramatically depending on who knows (or will know) the decision.
Considering decision outcomes as the dependent variable, several factors have been identified that consistently and significantly shape outcomes in the political and policy worlds. Political outcomes, such as voting (by citizens and elites), are often explained by focusing on party ID or partisanship, and for good reason, but there are also instances in which decision outcomes are better encapsulated by more localized factors or influences. Policy outcomes, on the other hand, are less easily defined or predicted. Emotional testimonies and random fluctuations affect whether an issue is acted upon by a legislative body. Attention to social context and a concern for fairness is a primary driver of decision outcomes in social situations. In particular, leader–follower dynamics and group outcomes are significantly affected by the process in which decisions are made.
Elizabeth A. Oldmixon
Churches are at the fulcrum of religious politics, and as church leaders, religious elites have an important role to play in the political milieu. They possess many of the resources associated with potent activism, but more importantly their job is to provide guidance to participants in a vast voluntary network. They can engage in agenda setting, encourage the faithful to apply their religious values to political engagement, and create opportunities to learn civic skills. Even so, religious leaders are subject to influence even as they try to exercise influence. In the foreground, religious leaders have a predictable set of goals, the substance of which varies by race, ethnicity, gender, and social theology. In the background, religious leaders pursue their goals in different sociodemographic and institutional contexts. The political behavior of religious leaders, then, is the product of background and foreground balancing.
Aubrey Westfall and Özge Çelik Russell
Religion is a central and comprehensive identity for billions of people all over the world. Politicians and other political actors recognize the vitality of religion and use it for political purposes, deliberately signaling religion, religiosity, or religious values and connecting them to political outcomes or behaviors in an effort to influence the political preferences of religious practitioners. The most efficient way to make the connection between religion and politics is through religious cues. Religious cues create information shortcuts linking religious identity or values with a political candidate or issue. Religious cues are used by political and religious actors in secular and religious contexts and are typically one of two general types: identity cues, which engage an individual’s religious identity and activate an in-group/out-group effect, and linkage cues, which link religious values or beliefs with an issue or candidate. Identity cues are particularly tricky to use in secular contexts because they have been shown to have strong alienating effects on nonreligious people, thereby defeating the intended purpose of the cue sender. For this reason, coded religious language called “implicit cues” is used with greater frequency in political discourse where only the religious cue receiver recognizes the religious cue for what it is. This strategy allows a political candidate to reap the benefits of the cue without risking alienation.
While scholars have made substantial progress in using experimental methods to disentangle the ways religious cues influence political behavior, there is ample opportunity for more research exploring different types of religious cues and the way they interact with other forms of cues and identities. Furthermore, most of the research on religious cues has focused on Christian cues in the United States, and a more diverse range of religions and contexts should be explored to understand the way religious cues influence political behavior. Researchers should also expand the definition of “religious practitioners” to explore how religious cues influence the growing number of people who do not affiliate with a religion or engage in practices traditionally associated with religiosity but do identify as religious. This would help to expand conceptualization of political behavior to more accurately reflect lived political experiences. Embracing these opportunities will allow the scholarly community to gain a better understanding of the varied political dynamics of religious cueing, which offers insights into how fundamental identities and attitudes are linked, thereby shedding more light on the complex dynamics of political behavior.
Political narratives examine the ways in which stories, or narratives, are used to investigate the political world. Historically, stories have not been regarded as legitimate sources of data for such explorations. In recent years, however, this has changed, as “the narrative turn” hit the social sciences; still, while disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology were more amenable to this alteration—representing, as it does, not only different methodologies, but also a different epistemological framework—many political scientists continue to resist the idea that political narratives can offer a very particular, and almost unique, perspective on how individuals and groups construct the political world and are constructed by it. One of the most dramatic uses of highly effective political narratives, which blurs the boundaries between the personal and public, is that of Barack Obama, which is used as a central case study in this article.
Leonie Huddy and Alexa Bankert
Partisanship remains a powerful influence on political behavior within developed and developing democracies, but there remains a lively debate on its nature, origins, and measurement. In this debate, political scientists draw on social identity theory to clarify the nature of partisanship and its political consequences in the United States and other developed and developing democracies. In particular, social identity theory has been used to develop an expressive model of partisanship, which stands in contrast to an instrumental model grounded in ideological and policy considerations. Included here are a discussion of the key motivational and cognitive components of social identity theory and an explanation of how the theory can be applied to the study of partisanship. The focus is on the measurement of partisanship, its social nature, its origins in convergent identities, and its ability to generate strong emotions and drive political engagement. Lastly, areas for future partisanship research are discussed. These areas include the study of negative partisan identities, coalitional identities in multiparty systems, and the political situations in which expressive and instrumental aspects of partisanship are most common.
For over 60 years, scholars of international relations (IR) and foreign policy have focused intermittently on the psychology of leaders and decision-makers in general, but attention has waxed and waned. Within political science, interest in the psychology of foreign policy seems to have peaked in the early 1970s and mid-1980s, but it would be quite mistaken to think of the topic as somehow passé. Since that time, the work of Irving Janis on groupthink (to cite just one instance) has proved repeatedly useful. That approach has focused on the social psychology of foreign policy, although more attention has been directed in recent years toward individual or cognitive psychology. Cognitive consistency theory, schema theory, and analogical reasoning have all particularly influenced the field, and each continues to provide the analyst with vital clues as to why people make the decisions that they do.
The methodology of studying foreign policy psychologically has also undergone significant change. Reacting to the strongly positivist focus typified by James Rosenau, a more recent generation of scholars have become rather more eclectic and dynamic in their approach to studying how foreign policy is made. This generation has also produced an extraordinary range of theories, discussed in this article, which depart from or significantly modify the well-known Rational Actor Model (RAM) of state and leadership behavior. Prospect theory, and poliheuristic theory in particular, have come onto the scene in recent years. Most recently, a welcome and much-needed turn toward the study of emotion (as opposed to merely cognition) has been especially evident in the study of the psychology of foreign policy.
It has never been clear exactly where foreign policy theory fits within IR theory, and it has often been treated as an addendum to studying IR—and even an element of unnecessary complexity—rather than being absolutely central to what we study. Indeed, the study of foreign policy decision-making (FPDM) has acquired a reputation as a discipline that is merely “marking time.” But this perspective on the psychology of foreign policy is as wrong as it is analytically dangerous. Attempts to create IR and foreign policy theories that conspicuously leave out psychological variables—or that simply “assume away” how real individuals actually behave—have proven repeatedly insufficient and have led to marked changes in the way that psychology is treated within the study of foreign policy. Most notably, the rise of constructivism and the failure of overly systemic theories like neorealism to account for foreign policy outcomes have caused neoclassical realists to deliberately incorporate the psychology of decision-makers into their theories. Within the discipline of psychology, meanwhile, a whole new field called behavioral economics that rejects the simplifying assumptions of a rational choice perspective has sprung up in recent years. In short, knowledge of psychology has proved invaluable to those attempting to understand why leaders make the decisions they do, and the entire approach remains indispensable to those who study foreign policy in general.
Doh Chull Shin
How well do people around the world understand democracy? Do they support democracy with an informed understanding of what it is? To address these questions, which have largely been overlooked in the literature on democratization, the World Values Survey and three regional barometer surveys are analyzed according to a two-dimensional notion of democratic knowledge. Their analyses reveal that a vast majority of global citizenries especially in post-authoritarian and authoritarian countries are either uninformed or misinformed about the fundamental characteristics of democracy and its alternatives. These findings contradict the popular theses that democracy is emerging as a universal value and it is also becoming the universally preferred system of government. For much of the world today, democracy represents little more than an appealing political symbol that still retains authoritarian practices.
Jolanda van der Noll
Many studies have established that religious people display higher levels of prejudice. The review of the literature suggests, however, that in order to understand the relationship between religion and prejudice, it is important to consider the target of prejudice as well as the multifaceted nature of religion. Regarding the target of prejudice, some prejudices may be condemned in religious communities, whereas others may be perceived to be promoted by religious communities. Religion as a multifaceted construct encompasses social, moral, cognitive, and emotional aspects. In its relations with prejudice, the social and cognitive dimension are particularly relevant, as these dimensions determine who is considered to be an in-group member and what constitutes a threat to the own religious worldview. Furthermore, it has also been shown that the exposure to religious concepts influences prejudicial reactions. Finally, a review of the studies conducted outside the context of white Christians in North America and Europe shows that, regardless of social context and religious denomination, prejudice can to a large extent be explained by perceptions of threat, for example, to one’s belief system, which may especially be important for religious people.
How do people make political judgments and decisions? Each day, people are faced with a host of political issues. They also possess a limited amount of cognitive resources and must grapple with topics on which there is not necessarily an objectively correct answer. In turn, people rely on accessible information to facilitate their political judgments and decisions. Information is accessible when it is activated in a person’s mind. The information can either be chronically accessible, such as the political issues that are consistently important to a person, or made accessible through the situation, such as the issues that the media choose to cover in a given time and place. Situational information becomes especially accessible when the context activates available information stored in memory or the information is consistent with a person’s motivations and goals, such as media coverage rendering civil rights more accessible for racial minorities. Priming refers to the usage of accessible information when making judgments and decisions, such as deciding whether to sign a petition or how to vote in an election. In recent years, considerable debate has emerged about the generalizability of findings and current conceptual models of accessibility and priming across people and contexts. As research on accessibility and priming progresses, scholars continue to examine these topics in novel areas (e.g., social media) and push in building nuanced theoretical frameworks that help to explain variability in priming across contexts. Overall, understanding how people use accessible information in political judgments and decisions stands as an important factor in developing a comprehensive picture of political life.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
Ferdinand M. Vieider and Barbara Vis
Prospect theory—a psychologically founded account of decision making under risk and uncertainty—revolutionized how economists and, later, political scientists thought about decision making under uncertainty. Conceptually, prospect theory is based on two central notions: reference dependence, which is the notion that the utility of outcomes is defined over changes in outcomes from a reference point instead of over absolute outcome levels; and likelihood dependence, which is the notion that people distort probabilities non-linearly when making a decision. Likelihood dependence gives rise to the possibility and certainty effects—changes in probabilities are given much more weight if they fall toward the probability endpoints than if they fall into intermediate probability ranges. Reference dependence gives rise to the reflection effect, predicting mirrored risk attitudes for gains and for losses; and to loss aversion, predicting that people display a disproportionate dislike for losses.