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Article

Mark Schafer and Gary Smith

How do the beliefs of leaders affect foreign policy decision-making processes and outcomes? This question has been central to the study of foreign policy decision making (FPDM), yet it receives scant attention in the broader international relations literature. Although many controversies and debates surround the issue of specifically how political leaders’ beliefs affect foreign policy decisions and outcomes, there is one key assumption in this literature that is universally accepted: leaders matter. Individual leaders, their unique beliefs, and their distinctive cognitive limitations affect both the quality of the decision-making process and the direction of the foreign policy outcomes. The beliefs and images leaders hold act as powerful frames and limitations to incoming information. Despite the rich history of the field, scholars who study beliefs still have much more work to do to expand the generalizability of the qualitative findings in the literature. Scholars need more data, deriving from more sources, for more leaders, so that they can generate larger and more comprehensive datasets. Indeed, there is a great opportunity to expand this field of research and to paint a clearer picture of the decision-making process.

Article

Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz and Seyoung Jung

The study of biology and politics is rapidly moving from being an isolated curiosity to being an integral part of the theories that political scientists propose. The necessity of adopting this interdisciplinary research philosophy will be increasingly apparent as political scientists seek to understand the precise mechanisms by which political decisions are made. To demonstrate this potential, scholars of biopolitics have addressed common misconceptions about biopolitics research (i.e., the nature-nurture dichotomy and biological determinism) and used different methods to shed light on political decision making since the turn of the 21st century—including methods drawn from evolutionary psychology, genomics, neuroscience, psychophysiology, and endocrinology. The field has already come far in its understanding of the biology of political decision making, and several key findings have emerged in biopolitical studies of political belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors. This area of research sheds light on the proximate and ultimate causes of political cognition and elucidates some of the ways in which human biology shapes both the human universals that make politics possible and the human diversity that provides it with such dynamism. Furthermore, three emerging areas of biopolitics research that anticipate the promise of a biologically informed political science are research into gene-environment interplay, research into the political causes and consequences of variation in human microbiomes, and research that integrates chronobiology—the study of the biological rhythms that regulate many aspects of life, including sleep—into the study of political decision making.

Article

The application of evolutionary theories or models to explain political decision making is quickly maturing, fundamentally interdisciplinary, and irreducibly complex. This hybridization has yielded significant benefits, including real progress toward understanding the conditions under which cooperation is possible, and a clearer understanding of the apparently “irrational” drivers of political violence. Decision making requires a nervous system that conditions motivation and behavior upon adaptively relevant cues in the environment. Such systems do not exist because they maximize utility, enlightenment, or scientific truth; they exist because on average they led to outcomes that were reproductively beneficial in ancestral environments. The reproductive challenges faced by our ancestors included not only ecological problems of predator avoidance but also political problems such as inter-group threat and the distribution of resources within groups. Therefore, evolutionary approaches to political decision making require direct and deep engagement of the logic whereby natural selection builds adaptations. This view of human psychology yields valuable insights on the domain specificity of political decision making as well as the psychological consequences of mismatch between modern and ancestral environments. In other words, there is accumulating evidence that many of the complex adaptations of the human brain were designed to solve the many problems of ancestral politics. This discussion begins by distinguishing evolutionary approaches from other frameworks used to explain political decision making, such as rational choice, or realism in international relations. Since evolutionary models of political decision making have now produced decades of original theoretical and empirical contributions, we are in a useful position to take stock of this research landscape. Doing so crystalizes the promises, perils, and scope of evolutionary approaches to politics.

Article

For much of the history of the study of international relations, and of foreign policy as a distinctive subfield, scholars have debated the relative weight of agency and structure in shaping the course of international events. Often, the significance of agency versus structure depends on the scope of inquiry. Efforts to identify broad patterns of social interaction tend to play up the significance of structure, while studies of specific events bring agency to the fore. International relations theory is typically associated with the former, and foreign policy analysis (FPA) is more closely linked to the latter. That association suggests that the question of agency versus structure in international outcomes is settled in FPA in favor of agency. An assessment of the literature in FPA shows such a suggestion to be wide of the mark. Not only does FPA struggle with the question of agency versus structure that pervades the study of international relations generally, but also it wrestles with how to reconcile agency and structure in the context of psychological constraints on human cognition. Thus, rather than resolving the debate between agency and structure, the literature on FPA shows that it extends down to the level of individual policymakers. The debate over the role of agency and structure occupies two axes. The first is the engagement of FPA with broader debates over agency and structure in international relations scholarship. The second is the tension between agency and structure in FPA that emerges once psychology is incorporated into the analytical matrix. In both cases, the significance of structure in the actual analysis of foreign policy is far greater than common conception recognizes. This reality means that FPA represents the cutting edge for theoretical and analytical efforts to understand the relationship between structure and agency in international outcomes.

Article

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.

Article

Matthew Cawvey, Matthew Hayes, Damarys Canache, and Jeffery J. Mondak

“Personality” refers to a multifaceted and enduring internal, or psychological, structure that influences patterns in a person’s actions and expressed attitudes. Researchers have associated personality with such attributes as temperament and values, but most scholarly attention has centered on individual differences in traits, or general behavioral and attitudinal tendencies. The focus on traits was reinvigorated with the rise of the Big Five personality framework in the 1980s and 1990s, when cross-cultural evidence pointed to the existence of the dimensions of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. Studies have found these five trait dimensions to be highly heritable and stable over time, leading researchers to argue that the Big Five exert a causal impact on attitudes and behavior. The stability of traits also contrasts with more dynamic individual-level characteristics such as mood or with contextual factors in a person’s environment. Explanations of human decision-making, therefore, would be incomplete without attention to personality traits. With these considerations in mind, political scientists have devoted an increasing amount of attention to the study of personality and citizen attitudes and behavior. The goal of this research program is not to claim that personality traits offer the only explanation for why some citizens fulfill the basic duties of citizenship, such as staying informed and turning out to vote, and others do not. Instead, scholars have studied personality in order to understand why individuals in the same economic and political environment differ in their political attitudes and actions. And accounting for the consistent influence of personality can illuminate the magnitude of environmental factors and other individual-level attributes that do shift over time. Research on personality and political behavior has explored several substantive topics, including political information, attitudes, and participation. Major findings in this burgeoning literature include the following: (1) politically interested and knowledgeable citizens tend to exhibit high levels of openness to experience, (2) ideological liberalism is more prevalent among individuals high in openness and low in conscientiousness, and (3) citizens are more likely to participate in politics if they are high in openness and extraversion. Although the personality and politics literature has shown tremendous progress in recent years, additional work remains to be done to produce comprehensive explanations of political behavior. Studies currently focus on the direct impact of traits on political attitudes and actions, but personality also could work through other individual-level attitudes and characteristics to influence behavior. In addition, trait effects may occur only in response to certain attitudes or contextual factors. Instead of assuming that personality operates in isolation from other predictors of political behavior, scholars can build on past studies by mapping out and testing interrelationships between psychological traits and the many other factors thought to influence how and how well citizens engage the world of politics.

Article

Srdjan Vucetic

Identity has come to figure prominently in the study of foreign policy since the 1990s when it was first introduced by constructivist theorists in International Relations. Consensus on what identity is and what it does in relation to foreign policy does not exist and is unlikely to be ever forged. Some scholars investigate state identity—how it impacts foreign policy processes while simultaneously being impacted by international structures. Others use the concept of identification to examine what foreign policy means for the constitution of modern political subjectivities. Still others seek to bring together constructivist identity scholarship together with more established approaches in Foreign Policy Analysis. This article considers the contextual emergence and evolution of the “identity and foreign policy” scholarship in its many different and differing streams. The large volume of literature produced on this subject over the past two and a half decades defies an easy summary of its theoretical and empirical contributions, but an overview of the main controversies and debates should provide the reader with a solid foundation for further research.

Article

Evolution, as a biological process and a metaphor, has utility in our understanding of international relations. The former is largely inapplicable for obvious, conceptual, and empirical reasons; but the latter is more promising, though those who use it must be explicit about its limitations. There must be considerations on how evolution contrasts with conscious adaption and imitation, on the argument for the need to distinguish among them analytically and empirically, and on the further exploration of the different conditions in which these other two mechanisms might be relevant.

Article

Thomas Dolan

Increasingly, scholars are recognizing the influences of emotion on foreign policy decision-making processes. Not merely feelings, emotions are sets of sentimental, physiological, and cognitive processes that typically arise in response to situational stimuli. They play a central role in psychological and social processes that shape foreign policy decision-making and behavior. In recent years, three important areas of research on emotion in foreign policy have developed: one examining the effects of emotion on how foreign policy decision makers understand and think-through problems, another focused on the role of emotion in diplomacy, and a third that investigates how mass emotion develops and shapes the context in which foreign policy decisions are made. These literatures have benefitted greatly from developments in the study of emotion by psychologists, neuroscientists, and others. Effectively using emotion to study foreign policy, however, requires some understanding of how these scholars approach the study of emotion and other affective phenomena. In addition to surveying the literatures in foreign policy analysis that use emotion, then, this article also addresses definitional issues and the different theories of emotion common among psychologists and neuroscientists. Some of the challenges scholars of emotion in foreign policy face: the interplay of the psychological and the social in modelling collective emotions, the issues involved in observing emotions in the foreign policy context, the theoretical challenge of emotion regulation, and the challenge of winning broader acceptance of the importance of emotion in foreign policy by the broader scholarly community.

Article

Rose McDermott and Christian Davenport

The current practice of conceiving and examining international relations within the dogma of the existing dominant paradigm in international relations unnecessarily truncates our understanding of how historical factors influence current events and restricts our ability to generate flexible and creative hypotheses to predict, and perhaps more successfully intervene in, future events. In many ways, these constraints result, at least in part, from the temporal, strategic, and behavioral isolation embedded in these models, which limit our ability to understand, integrate, and address how states deal with one another comprehensively. Substantial theoretical and empirical purchase can be gained through the application of an integrated explanatory rubric of evolutionary modeling, invoking the central concepts of variation, selection, and retention. Models derived from evolutionary psychology, applied not only to human cognitive architecture, but also to the interaction of these psychological dynamics with environmental factors including institutions, provides a richly generative framework from which to derive meaningful and novel hypotheses about politics in general and international relations in particular. It also allows for a progressive and cumulative research agenda that can build a more comprehensive and descriptively accurate foundation for understanding the nature of interaction between people and societies as well as between states themselves. Such an approach provides a useful framework for understanding the dynamic and interactive nature of international relations, sheds light on existing limitations as well as empirical findings, and facilitates insight into areas not yet explored.

Article

Colleen M. Carpinella and Kerri L. Johnson

The facial appearance of political candidates provides information to voters that can be vital to the impression-formation process. Traditionally, psychological research in the field of appearance-based politics has concentrated on investigating whether politicians’ physical appearance impacts perceptions of them. Recently, the focus has shifted from examining whether facial cues matter for impression formation to determining (1) which facial cues matter for voters’ perceptions of politicians and (2) how such visual cues are utilized within the political decision-making process. This shift in research focus has ushered in an appreciation of facial competence and physical attractiveness, and it has been marked by a renewed interest in studying how gender stereotypes impact the influence of politician appearance on perceptions of male and female politicians. In addition, this renewed interest in studying underlying mechanisms in appearance-based politics has spurred on research that includes a broader range of downstream consequences such as evaluations of leadership potential, voting behavior, and even basic political party affiliation categorizations.

Article

Like all decision making, foreign policy decision making (FPDM) requires transferring meaning from one representation to another. Since the end of the Cold War, students of FPDM have focused increasingly on historical analogies and, to a lesser extent, conceptual metaphors to explain how this transference works. Drawing on converging evidence from the cognitive sciences, as well as careful case studies of foreign policymaking, they’ve shown analogy and metaphor to be much more than “cheap talk.” Instead, metaphor and analogy are intrinsic to policymakers’ cognition. This article traces the development of this growing literature. So far, FPDM has treated analogy and metaphor separately. It has also paid far more attention to the former than the latter. By contrast, the article argues that analogy and metaphor are not only similar, they are equally essential to cognition. It defines and compares metaphor and analogy, analyzes their socio-cognitive functions in decision making, and charts the evolution of analogy and metaphor research in FPDM. It also suggests the utility of a constructivist-cognitive synthesis for future work in this area.

Article

Foreign policy decision making has been and remains at the core of foreign policy analysis and its enduring contribution to international relations. The adoption of rationalist approaches to foreign policy decision making, predicated on an actor-specific analysis, paved the way for scholarship that sought to unpack the sources of foreign policy through a graduated assessment of differing levels of analysis. The diversity of inputs into the foreign policy process and, as depicted through a rationalist decision-making lens, the centrality of a search for utility and the impulse toward compensation in “trade-offs” between predisposed preferences, plays a critical role in enriching our understanding of how that process operates. FPA scholars have devoted much of their work to pointing out the many flaws in rationalist depictions of the decision-making process, built on a set of unsustainable assumptions and with limited recognition of distortions underlined in studies drawn from literature on psychology, cognition, and the study of organizations. At the same time, proponents of rational choice have sought to recalibrate the rational approach to decision making to account for these critiques and, in so doing, build a more robust explanatory model of foreign policy.

Article

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.

Article

Stephen L. Quackenbush and Thomas R. Guarrieri

Foreign policy analysis has been used effectively to explain the use of force. Several leading approaches and paradigms help explain the use of force as a tool of foreign policy. These approaches are based on the important preliminary step of opening up the black box of state, which highlights the importance of decision making for explaining international politics. The two primary approaches to explaining foreign policy analysis are rational choice theory and psychological theories. Foreign policy analysis opens the door to a variety of novel and interesting topics. Many topics of domestic politics relate to international conflict, including democratic peace theory, selectorate theory, public opinion, domestic institutions, and leaders. Each of these topics is important for explaining the use of force in foreign policy. Future research on the use of force and international conflict should account for the importance of domestic politics. Studies of leaders, selectorate theory, and the bargaining model of war provide especially promising avenues for future research.

Article

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.

Article

The cognitive and emotional mechanics of the human brain have profound effects on when and what people and political leaders learn, and this can have significant effects on their causal beliefs, preferences, and policies. The existence of the availability heuristic and its biasing effects on political judgment is one of the most robust findings from decades of research in cognitive psychology. The core mechanism involves people being more likely to learn from the phenomena that are most easily recalled by memory, which tend to be dramatic and vivid events, rather than other, often more normatively probative sources. Most applications of this insight to foreign policy decision-making also tend to assume that an actor’s personal experiences will impact what tends to be more or less easily recalled and thus better predict who learns which lesson from which event. This heuristic enables leaders to deal with the vast amount of extant information but also can cause systematic biases in causal inference. Documenting the availability heuristic and its effects on political decision-making requires (usually archival) data on leaders beliefs’ over long periods of time, from their formative political lessons through decisions and nondecisions when in power, in order to reliably clarify which lessons were in fact learned, when and why a leader learned which lesson from what data point, why that data point happened to be cognitively available, and whether these lessons influenced policy. Ideally, studies should also assess these leaders’ associates where possible to determine whether they learned similar lessons from the same events. Studies can also apply statistical analysis to larger populations of leaders who are likely to have found different events cognitively available. This article focusses on decisions in the realm of foreign policy and international security, although availability certainly plays a role in other domains as well. Decades of scholarship have now shown the relevance of the availability heuristic in U.S., Soviet, Indian, Chinese, and Pakistani grand strategy and foreign policy, approaches to nuclear weapons, and extant alliances and threat perceptions. But much work remains to be done in these cases and elsewhere, as well as in other fields like international political economy and comparative politics.

Article

Political systems involve citizens, voters, politicians, parties, legislatures, and governments. These political actors interact with each other and dynamically alter their strategies according to the results of their interactions. A major challenge in political science is to understand the dynamic interactions between political actors and extrapolate from the process of individual political decision making to collective outcomes. Agent-based modeling (ABM) offers a means to comprehend and theorize the nonlinear, recursive, and interactive political process. It views political systems as complex, self-organizing, self-reproducing, and adaptive systems consisting of large numbers of heterogeneous agents that follow a set of rules governing their interactions. It allows the specification of agent properties and rules governing agent interactions in a simulation to observe how micro-level processes generate macro-level phenomena. It forces researchers to make assumptions surrounding a theory explicit, facilitates the discovery of extensions and boundary conditions of the modeled theory through what-if computational experiments, and helps researchers understand dynamic processes in the real-world. ABM models have been built to address critical questions in political decision making, including why voter turnouts remain high, how party coalitions form, how voters’ knowledge and emotion affect election outcomes, and how political attitudes change through a campaign. These models illustrate the use of ABM in explicating assumptions and rules of theoretical frameworks, simulating repeated execution of these rules, and revealing emergent patterns and their boundary conditions. While ABM has limitations in external validity and robustness, it provides political scientists a bottom-up approach to study a complex system by clearly defining the behavior of various actors and generate theoretical insights on political phenomena.

Article

Behavioral public administration is an interdisciplinary research field that studies public administration topics by connecting insights from public administration with psychology and, more broadly, the behavioral sciences. Behavioral public administration scholars study important public problems such as discrimination, corruption, and burnout. Various public administration scholars—including Herbert Simon—have stressed the importance of connecting psychology and public administration. Yet until the early 2010s, public administration did not work systematically on this connection. This has changed profoundly with the development of various overview articles, dedicated special issues in general public administration journals, and development of new journals. Behavioral public administration has several uses. First, behavioral public administration tests and extends theories and concepts from psychology in political-administrative settings. Examples include tests of prospect theory and the choice overload hypothesis in public-administrative settings. Second, it tests and extends the micro-foundations of public administration theories and concepts, such as concerning co-production and isomorphism. Third, behavioral public administration scholars develop new theories and concepts. This has probably been less widespread than the previous two uses, but is nonetheless already apparent in, for instance, concepts such as public service motivation, policy alienation, and administrative burden. Fourth, behavioral public administration can help in tackling practical public problems. Insights from behavioral public administration have been used to increase diversity within public organizations and reduce burnout. The field of behavioral public administration can develop further. The field could move beyond one-shot single studies and aim to build cumulative knowledge. This can be done via large-scale collaborations and replications. In addition, it is also beneficial if behavioral public administration scholars broaden their methodological toolkit to answer different kinds of research questions. It should not only focus on causal inference questions but also on questions concerning description of societal problems (e.g. via representative surveys) or concerning prediction (e.g. by using machine learning).

Article

Ingrid J. Haas, Clarisse Warren, and Samantha J. Lauf

Recent research in political psychology and biopolitics has begun to incorporate theory and methods from cognitive neuroscience. The emerging interdisciplinary field of political neuroscience (or neuropolitics) is focused on understanding the neural mechanisms underlying political information processing and decision making. Most of the existing work in this area has utilized structural magnetic resonance imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or electroencephalography, and focused on understanding areas of the brain commonly implicated in social and affective neuroscience more generally. This includes brain regions involved in affective and evaluative processing, such as the amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate, and orbitofrontal cortex, as well as regions involved in social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex [PFC]), decision making (e.g., dorsolateral PFC), and reward processing (e.g., ventral striatum). Existing research in political neuroscience has largely focused on understanding candidate evaluation, political participation, and ideological differences. Early work in the field focused simply on examining neural responses to political stimuli, whereas more recent work has begun to examine more nuanced hypotheses about how the brain engages in political cognition and decision making. While the field is still relatively new, this work has begun to improve our understanding of how people engage in motivated reasoning about political candidates and elected officials and the extent to which these processes may be automatic versus relatively more controlled. Other work has focused on understanding how brain differences are related to differences in political opinion, showing both structural and functional variation between political liberals and political conservatives. Neuroscientific methods are best used as part of a larger, multimethod research program to help inform theoretical questions about mechanisms underlying political cognition. This work can then be triangulated with experimental laboratory studies, psychophysiology, and traditional survey approaches and help to constrain and ensure that theory in political psychology and political behavior is biologically plausible given what we know about underlying neural architecture. This field will continue to grow, as interest and expertise expand and new technologies become available.