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The study of ideology hinges upon several important characteristics. First, the term “ideology” may connote different things to voters. To some, it indicates a preference for “conservatism” over “liberalism”; others adopt a more nuanced perspective, identifying ideology as “libertarianism,” “environmentalism,” and “populism” (among others). Some view it is an identity. Ideological labels are entrenched in political and non-political identities. The term “conservative” may signal a social orientation only loosely related to conservatism’s philosophical tenets (e.g., limiting the size and scope of the federal government). “Liberalism” or “progressivism,” signal a different worldview that also perhaps loosely related to the philosophical characteristics of modern (American) liberalism (e.g., “expanding the social safety net”). Ideology is also a means of cognitive organization; it is used to make sense of oftentimes complex public policy. Individuals organize policy beliefs around organizing principles, such as a preference for reducing the size of the federal government. Considering this heterogeneity, it is important to use the term with precision, in order to better understand how voters rely upon ideology in their decision calculus. Second, ideology is a central characteristic in the general structure of political beliefs. It acts as a lens through which the political and social world is interpreted. Third, ideology is functional in nature. Ideological preferences often fulfill a voter’s unique psychological, motivational, and personality-oriented characteristics. Finally, ideology has unique consequences in contemporary politics, as evidenced by increased political polarization, partisan-ideological sorting, and ideologically divisive rhetoric.

Article

Q methodology was introduced in 1935 and has evolved to become the most elaborate philosophical, conceptual, and technical means for the systematic study of subjectivity across an increasing array of human activities, most recently including decision making. Subjectivity is an inescapable dimension of all decision making since we all have thoughts, perspectives, and preferences concerning the wide range of matters that come to our attention and that enter into consideration when choices have to be made among options, and Q methodology provides procedures and a rationale for clarifying and examining the various viewpoints at issue. The application of Q methodology commonly begins by accumulating the various comments in circulation concerning a topic and then reducing them to a smaller set for administration to select participants, who then typically rank the statements in the Q sample from agree to disagree in the form of a Q sort. Q sorts are then correlated and factor analyzed, giving rise to a typology of persons who have ordered the statements in similar ways. As an illustration, Q methodology was administered to a diverse set of stakeholders concerned with the problems associated with the conservation and control of large carnivores in the Northern Rockies. Participants nominated a variety of possible solutions that each person then Q sorted from those solutions judged most effective to those judged most ineffective, the factor analysis of which revealed four separate perspectives that are compared and contrasted. A second study demonstrates how Q methodology can be applied to the examination of single cases by focusing on two members of a group contemplating how they might alter the governing structures and culture of their organization. The results are used to illustrate the quantum character of subjective behavior as well as the laws of subjectivity. Discussion focuses on the broader role of decisions in the social order.

Article

Social change sometimes happens because groups in society make it happen. The social psychology of such “man-made” change in political contexts studies the key psychological and political processes that play an important role in driving such change. Theory and research have focused on political processes as conditions that foster change but also on the psychological processes that describe how a structural potential for change translates into political action, which puts pressure on political decision makers toward social change. This yields important scientific insights into how political action occurs and thus may affect political decision making. As for political processes, one relevant model is McAdam’s political process model, which identifies a number of structural factors that increase the potential for political action to achieve social change. As for psychological processes, one relevant model is the Social Identity Model of Collective Action, which identifies a number of core motivations for political action, and which seeks to integrate psychological insights with political models of social change. A joint discussion of these models offers hope and scope for further theoretical and empirical integration, as well as a broader and more comprehensive understanding of political and psychological processes in political action toward social change.

Article

An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning. Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts. Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century. The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous. Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.

Article

Rational choice theory builds from a very simple foundation. To wit: individuals are presumed to pursue goal-oriented behavior stemming from rational preferences. Rational choice theory benefits from the very precise formulations of its assumptions. Individual-level rationality is generally defined as having complete and transitive preferences. Both completeness and transitivity have precise, formal definitions. From complete and transitive preferences, one can develop utility function presentations reflecting those preferences. Utility functions have the advantage of establishing a measure and allowing one to assess attitudes toward risk. That is, utility functions can reflect risk acceptance, risk neutrality, or risk aversion. Although some rational choice theorists focus on individual-level decision making, most rational choice theorists consider the ways in which individuals’ decisions are aggregated into some sort of social outcome or social preference order. The aggregation of individuals’ preferences occurs in both social choice and game theoretic models. Arrow’s theorem is the best-known result in social choice theory. Arrow showed that the rationality of individuals’ preferences could not be readily preserved at the group level when those individuals’ preferences were aggregated. That is, individual-level rationality does not ensure group-level rationality. Put slightly differently, irrationality at the group level cannot impugn rationality at the individual level. Other examples highlighting the difficulty of aggregating individuals’ preferences into a collective outcome abound. For instance, game theoretic presentations of the collective action problem highlight how individually rational decisions can lead to suboptimal outcomes. Rational choice models have been used to model interactions in a wide array of political institutions. Rational choice models have been developed to tackle some of the most challenging concepts in the social sciences, even in areas long thought impenetrable to rational choice theorizing. For instance, concepts such as ideology or personal identification have typically been used as preestablished descriptors. In contrast to treating those concepts as extant descriptors, rational choice theorists have modeled the endogenous development of ideologies and personal identification. Given the complexity of social phenomena, the relative parsimony and the clarity of rational choice models can be particularly helpful. The usefulness of rational choice models stems from their parsimony and their applicability to a wide range of settings.