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Article

Behavioral Decision Theory  

Kazuhisa Takemura

Behavioral decision theory is a descriptive psychological theory of human judgment, decision making, and behavior that can be applied to political science. Behavioral decision theory is closely related to behavioral economics and behavioral finance. Behavioral economics is an attempt to understand actual human economic behavior, and behavioral finance studies human behavior in financial markets. Research on people’s decision making represents an important part of these fields, in which various aspects overlap with the scope of behavioral decision theory. Behavioral decision theory focuses on the decision-making phenomena that are broadly divisible into those under certainty, those under risk, and others under uncertainty that includes ambiguity and ignorance. What are the theoretical frameworks that could be used to explain the decision-making phenomenon? Although numerous theories related to decision making have been developed, they are, in essence, often broadly divided into two types: normative theory and descriptive theory. The former is intended to support rational decision making. The latter describes how people actually make decisions. Both normative and descriptive theories reflect the nature of actual human decision making to a degree. Even descriptive theory seeks a certain level of rationality in actual human decision making. Consequently, the two are mutually indistinguishable. Nonetheless, a major example of normative theory is regarded as the system of utility theory that is widely used in economics. A salient example of descriptive theory is behavioral decision theory. Utility theory has numerous variations, such as linear and nonlinear utility theories. Most theories have established axioms and mathematically developed principles. In contrast, behavioral decision theory covers a considerably wide range of variations of theoretical expressions, including theories that have been developed mathematically (such as prospect theory) and those expressed only with natural language (such as multiattribute decision-making process models). Behavioral decision theory has integrated the implications of the normative theory, descriptive theory, and prescriptive theory that help people to make better decisions.

Article

The Age-Structural Theory of State Behavior  

Richard Cincotta

Over the past three decades, economic and political demographers, using various measures, have discerned that increased age-structural maturity makes significant statistical contributions to levels of per capita income, to educational attainment, to declines in the frequency of onsets of intrastate conflict, and to the likelihood of achieving and maintaining liberal democracy. Some of the stronger statistical relationships have been used in forecasts. For example, using the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) demographic projections, political demographers have relied on the strong statistical association between age structure and stable liberal democracy to forecast the rise of democracy in North Africa more than two years in advance (in 2008)—at a time when regional experts believed that forecast to be absurd. Whereas critics remain skeptical of the murky causal connections of age-structural theory, its proponents counter that causality in the development of state capacity is complex and is less important than the theory’s positive qualities (namely, that it is forward-looking, its statistical findings are easily repeated, its forecasts have outcompeted regional experts, and its predictive products can be readily adapted to the needs of intelligence foresight, defense planning, and foreign policy analysis). Perhaps most important, the age-structural theory of state behavior has yielded a surprising number of “novel facts”—new knowledge concerning the observed pace and timing of state political, social, and economic behaviors.

Article

Sunk Costs and Political Decision Making  

Charles A. Miller

The “sunk costs fallacy” is a popular import into political science from organizational psychology and behavioral economics. The fallacy is classically defined as a situation in which decision-makers escalate commitment to an apparently failing project in order to “recoup” the costs they have already sunk into it. The phenomenon is often framed as a good example of how real decision-making departs from the assumption of forward-looking rationality which underpins traditional approaches to understanding politics. Researchers have proposed a number of different psychological drivers for the fallacy, such as cognitive dissonance reduction, and there is experimental and observational evidence that it accurately characterizes decision-making in certain contexts. However, there is significant skepticism about the fallacy in many social sciences, with critics arguing that there are better forward-looking rational explanations for decisions apparently driven by a desire to recoup sunk costs – among them reputational concerns, option values and agency problems. Critics have also noted that in practical situations sunk costs are informative both about decision makers’ intrinsic valuation for the issue and the prospects for success, making it hard to discern a separate role for sunk costs empirically. To address these concerns, empirical researchers have employed a number of strategies, especially leveraging natural experiments in certain non-political decision making contexts such as sports or business, in order to isolate the effects of sunk costs per se from other considerations. In doing so, they have found mixed support for the fallacy. Research has also shown that the prevalence of the sunk costs fallacy may be moderated by a number of factors, including the locus of decision-making, framing, and national context. These provide the basis for suggestions for future research.

Article

Identity, Internal State Conflict, and Religion  

John F. McCauley

Social science literature does not identify a direct effect of religion on the occurrence of intrastate conflict. Yet religion as a sociopolitical identity does have several fairly unique features that render religious differences particularly useful to political entrepreneurs in the course of conflict. First, religions often have codified guidelines, typically written, that convey normative behaviors—what one should do to attain salvation, for example. The presence of such guidelines can reinforce the organizational strength of particular groups and underscore the nonnegotiable status of their beliefs, both of which can be useful in the course of conflict. Second, the religious identity includes multiple levels of division that do not exist within other identity types—including interfaith differences, differences between sects within religious traditions, and divisions between secularists and strong religionists. Such divisions create opportunities for outbidding that exacerbate tensions and conflict. Third, religious group membership confers nonmaterial benefits, such as perceived access to salvation, that can motivate behavior in very tangible, this-worldly ways, for example by encouraging fighters to choose martyrdom over negotiated settlements. Finally, religious networks link adherents transnationally in a manner that no other identity type can, creating opportunities to mobilize resources and support from abroad for a conflict within borders. These features suggest that, whereas religion is no more likely than other types of identity divisions to cause conflict, it can be particularly powerful for political entrepreneurs to wield as a tool in conflict settings. In some cases, conflicts are viewed as religious because the religious labels of competing sides differ, even if the conflict itself has nothing to do with religion. In other cases, conflicts may be described as religious if the content over which adversary sides fight is itself religious in nature; violence over the imposition of Islamic sharia law in a religiously mixed country may be one such example. Even when intrastate conflicts are fought over religious content, however, from the perspective of political scientists the matter is still one of political choice. This underscores the critical role that political entrepreneurs play in the shaping of conflicts as religious. Understanding the power of codified behavioral guidelines, multiple layers of division, non-material payoffs, and transnational networks that religious identity provides, political entrepreneurs can use religion to exploit the (sometimes unrelated) grievances of their supporters and thus escalate conflict where doing so pays political dividends. In this way, scholars recognize that intrastate conflicts with various causal foundations frequently become fights in the name of God.

Article

Democratic Norms and Religion  

Gizem Arikan and Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom

In research on religiosity and support for democratic norms, two major debates stand out: The first concerns whether some religious traditions, such as Islam or Orthodox Christianity, are inherently undemocratic, and hence whether supporters of these traditions have antidemocratic orientations. The second debate is about whether religious orientations beyond religious identification foster or hinder support for democratic norms. Both debates may be resolved by conceptualizing both individual religiosity and support for democratic norms as multidimensional orientations. At the individual level, religiosity consists of belief, behavior, and belonging dimensions. Support for democratic norms consist of overt approval of democracy as the ideal system of governing the country and intrinsic support, which refers to an understanding of democracy as being primarily associated with liberal-democratic norms and institutions such as popular sovereignty, political equality, civil rights, and free elections. Religious belief is negatively associated with over support, and religious social behavior is positively associated with overt support. Yet, there is some evidence that the effect of religious social behavior on intrinsic support for democracy may not be positive. Recent scholarship is also interested in identifying the psychological mechanisms through which different religiosity dimensions affect support for democratic norms, as well as establishing the causal effects of religiosity dimensions by experimentally manipulating different facets of religiosity. Although the multidimensional approach to religiosity provides a general framework that explains the effect of religiosity on support for democratic norms, there is still substantive variation across time and different contexts to be explained. Avenues exist for future research in terms of theorizing and identifying the moderating effects of different factors, most obviously the religious context and the influence of religious elites and social networks.

Article

Prospect Theory, Loss Aversion, and Political Behavior  

Francesco Passarelli and Alessandro Del Ponte

Prospect theory introduces several anomalies in the behavior of rational agents, including loss aversion, the reflection effect, probability weighting, and the certainty effect. Loss aversion occurs relative to the current state of the world, called reference point. Being loss averse causes people to prefer the current state of affairs above and beyond the expected utility that comes from a risky political change, engendering a status quo bias. Yet, bias is asymmetric due to the reflection effect: people are too tepid toward advantageous platforms or candidates, whereas they are not critical enough of detrimental policies or bad politicians. Both rich and poor citizens take similar stances on nonpartisan issues (such as national defense): this happens because they evaluate uncertain policy changes relative to a reference point. Citizens welcome radical political platforms with greater enthusiasm than incremental proposals. Generally, under prospect theory societal conflict is smoother than under expected utility theory. Older societies are more prone to preserving the status quo than younger ones. These properties also affect the choice of voting rules. Loss aversion induces people to prefer more prudent voting rules and preserve the status quo. Hence, agents favor higher majority thresholds or even unanimity over simple majority in constitutional choice. The status quo bias supports the persistence of policy cycles, with prolonged drifts in one direction before a trend reversal. In sum, loss aversion and other anomalies pinpointed by prospect theory offer insightful predictions with which to study political phenomena.

Article

Dead Ends and New Paths in the Study of Economic Voting  

Timothy Hellwig and Dani M. Marinova

Connections between the economy and vote are commonly invoked to evaluate political accountability in representative democracies. A principal motivation for studying economic voting lies in its value as a gauge of whether democracy works or not. In recent years, however, researchers have cast doubt on the assertion that economic conditions influence voters’ evaluations of political incumbents. Criticisms hail from several directions. Some, adopting a cross-national perspective, cite the instability problem as evidence against economic voting’s existence. That is, variance in the economy-vote relationship across different national contexts is sufficiently large so as to undermine claims that the economy registers a systematic effect. Other critics charge that the electorate lacks sufficient knowledge to incorporate economic conditions in their decisions at the polls. Still others remind us not to mistake correlation for causation. They charge that the voters’ perceptions of how well the economy is performing are viewed through a pre-existing partisan lens. All told, these and other reservations cast doubt on the use of economic voting as a means to evaluate accountability and, in turn, democratic performance. These charges against the fidelity of economic voting require further examination. Rather than join a growing chorus of observers concluding that the economic vote is a chimera, this piece posits that recent critiques should push us to reconceive rather than discredit economic voting. Recent work in psychology and behavioral economics provides a basis for constructive and meaningful reinterpretations of the economy’s influence on voter decisions. These new directions include an emphasis on framing effects—be it on the part of strategic elites or from the media, an emphasis on what voters know about the economy, and a wider consideration of just which “economy” matters to which set of voters. While many in number, each of these new directions advance understanding by embodying deeper conceptions of voters and elected officials.

Article

Genetics and Heritability Research on Political Decision Making  

Levente Littvay

In 2005, political scientists claimed that parent-child similarities, in addition to parenting, socialization, or shared social factors by the family, are also driven by genetic similarity. This claim upended a century of orthodoxy in political science. Many social scientists are uncomfortable with this concept, and this discomfort often stems from a multitude of misunderstandings. Claims about the genetics and heritability of political phenomena predate 2005 and wave of studies over the decade that followed swept through political science and then died down as quickly as they came. The behavior genetic research agenda faces several challenges within political science, including (a) resistance to these ideas within all of the social sciences, (b) difficulties faced by scholars in the production of meaningful theoretical and empirical contributions, and (c) developments in the field of genetics and their (negative) impact on the related scholarship within the study of politics.