Behavioral Economics Research Insights that Can Make Diplomacy Better

As Jason Zweig writes, self-deception is a barrier to good investing. We can learn a few things from his summary of 20 years of reading the research, including the following:

  • How conformation bias leads us to find supporting evidence, not contrary views
  • The tendency to not look historically or long-term
  • On hidden biases we all possess, as well as “status quo,” “blind spot,” and “anchoring”
  • Overconfidence in rating our own abilities and judgements.

One takeaway? We aren’t as rational as we think–and need to do more hard thinking to understand ourselves and those with whom we negotiate.

Via “That Cocky Voice in Your Head Is Wrong – WSJ

How Social Psychology Devoured its Own: Amy Cuddy, the TED talk “Power Pose” former HBS professor

 

A 2017 NYT Magazine article by Susan Dominus notes below the rise of a field: social psychology–and how one of its most visible experts, Amy Cuddy, whose TED talk with more than 43 million viewers–became a victim of a reform movement launched from within (P-hacking).

The field is of interest to diplomacy as it relates to the group-level, touching on such mainstays as groupthink, persuasion/influence, and more. (The larger story of Cuddy, is also interesting–and her main idea, that you body language can influence others, although now under scrutiny, is still interesting and useful, as well.

 

One of the seminal social-psychology studies, at the turn of the 20th century, asked a question that at the time was a novel one: How does the presence of other people change an individual’s behavior? Norman Triplett, a psychologist at Indiana University, found that when he asked children to execute a simple task (winding line on a fishing rod), they performed better in the company of other children than they did when alone in a room. Over the following decades, a new discipline grew up within psychology to further interrogate group dynamics: how social groups react in certain circumstances, how the many can affect the one.

The questions grew even more profound, using experiments to tease out universal susceptibilities, raising the possibility that behavior was more easily swayed by outside forces than personality researchers previously believed. The field reached a moment of unusual visibility in the mid-20th century, as practitioners, many of them Jewish refugees or first-generation immigrants from Europe, explored, post-World War II, the way group pressures or authority figures could influence human behavior. In one simple study on conformity in 1951, the social psychologist Solomon Asch found that people would agree that one drawn line matched the length of another — even if it clearly did not — if others around them all agreed that it did. In subsequent years, researchers like Stanley Milgram (who tested how people weighed their consciences against the demands of authority) and Philip Zimbardo (who observed the effect of power on students assigned as either prison guards or prisoners) rejected the traditional confines of the lab for more theatrical displays of human nature. “They felt the urgency of history,” says Rebecca Lemov, a professor of the history of science at Harvard. “They really wanted to make people look.”

Since the late 1960s, the field’s psychologists have tried to elevate the scientific rigor of their work, introducing controls and carefully designed experiments like the ones found in medicine. Increasingly complex ideas about the workings of the unconscious yielded research with the charm of mesmerists’ shows, revealing unlikely forces that seem to guide our behavior: that simply having people wash their hands could change their sense of culpability; that people’s evaluations of risk could easily be rendered irrational; that once people have made a decision, they curiously give more weight to information in its favor. Humans, the research often suggested, were reliably mercurial, highly suggestible, profoundly irrational, tricksters better at fooling ourselves than anyone else.

Already relatively accessible to the public, the field became even more influential with the rise of behavioral economics in the 1980s and 1990s, as visionaries like Richard Thaler, (who won the Nobel Prize in economics this month) found applications for counterintuitive social-psychology insights that could be used to guide policy. In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the best-selling “Tipping Point,” applied irresistible storytelling to the science, sending countless journalists to investigate similar terrain and inspiring social psychologists to write books of their own. In 2006, Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, published the best seller “Stumbling on Happiness” — a book that tried to explain why we plan so poorly for our own future. That same year, TED started airing its first videos, offering a new stage for social psychologists with compelling findings, ideally surprising ones. The field was experiencing a visibility unknown since the midcentury; business schools, eager for social psychologists’ insights into leadership and decision-making, started pursuing social psychologists, with better pay and more funding than psychology graduate schools could offer.

via When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy – The New York Times

Country Research | Venezuela’s Shocking, Impending Collapse

 

A chronicle of the sad dissolution of a formerly democratic country: Venezuela. Previously, the stuff of former Soviet states, a Latin American economic powerhouse has been bankrupted in every sense of the word.

How does this cut against a common conclusion of political science research, namely that democracies rarely collapse into authoritarianism? Thank chavismo, mismanagement, institutional destruction, bad policy, and corruption, according to Moises Naim and Francisco Toro.

And in the NYT’s Interpreter, Max Fischer offers this:

Distrust of institutions often leads populists, who see themselves as the people’s true champion, to consolidate power. But institutions sometimes resist, leading to tit-for-tat conflicts that can weaken both sides.

“Even before the economic crisis, you have two things that political scientists all agree are the least sustainable bases for power, personalism and petroleum,” Mr. Levitsky said, referring to the style of government that consolidates power under a single leader. …

Because populism describes a world divided between the righteous people and the corrupt elite, each round of confrontation, by drawing hard lines between legitimate and illegitimate points of view, can polarize society.

Why the Russian Revolution in 1917 Matters

A new book by China Miéville stakes out “the key political event of the 20th century“…an “astonishing, inspiring story” of what the American diplomat George Kennan described the “bitter first fruit” of the Great War, “the seminal tragedy.” And yet, this year the Kremlin skipped the national commemoration this past March 12.

In one sense it’s uncontroversial that 1917 matters. After all, it is recent history, and there’s no arena of the modern world not touched by its shadow. Not only in the social democratic parties, shaped in opposition to revolutionary approaches, and their opponents of course, but at the grand scale of geopolitics, where the world’s patterns of allegiance and rivalry and the states that make up the system bear the clear traces of the revolution, its degeneration and decades of standoff. Equally, a long way from the austere realms of statecraft, the Russian avant-garde artists Malevich, Popova, Rodchenko and others remain inextricable from the revolution that so many of them embraced.Their influence is incalculable: the cultural critic Owen Hatherley calls constructivism “probably the most intensive and creative art and architectural movement of the 20th century”, which influenced or anticipated “abstraction, pop art, op art, minimalism, abstract expressionism, the graphic style of punk and post-punk … brutalism, postmodernism, hi-tech and deconstructivism”. We can trace the revolution in cinema and sociology, theatre and theology, realpolitik and fashion. So of course the revolution matters. As Lenin may or may not have said: “Everything is related to everything else.”

Source: Why does the Russian revolution matter? | Books | The Guardian

Terry Gross on How to Talk to Anyone

Diplomats, salespeople, missionaries, and journalists all talk to people. Some do it better than others. But nobody does it as well as Terry Gross, the NRP interviewer par excellance–who kept me informed and entertained as I worked a painting conservation job in college, swabbing dirt inch-by-inch across a gigantic, room-filling canvas. Foam-covered 1980’s era headphones attached to a Sony AM/FM/cassette Walkman were my lifeline to a world of fascinating ideas and people, thanks to Gross.

So when I saw this piece by Susan Burton on the art and craft of WHYY in Philadelphia’s master interviewer I wanted to see what could be learned. One insight: it takes a lot of work (and a little luck) to get a “real moment” in a hard-earned conversation, and it can be uncomfortable:

When the interview ended, Gross and her producers asked themselves, ‘‘Are we going to keep that in the edit?’’ Yes, they decided: ‘‘Maybe there’s not a really satisfactory, conclusive answer,’’ but ‘‘it felt like a real moment.’’ Gross went on: ‘‘Even if the real moment isn’t somebody being really honest and forthcoming and introspective, a real moment of friction, a real moment of tension, is still a real moment.’’

Occasionally the ‘‘real moments’’ can be awkward for Gross. In July, in an interview with the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gross began laughing in response to a story he told about being yelled at by a teacher. ‘‘See, it sounds like you’re laughing because, like, it’s funny if you’ve never been in the environment,’’ Coates said. Some on social media pegged Gross as a clueless white lady. But the exchange was constructive. Gross was simply reacting, and then listening as Coates explained his perception of her reaction. In doing so, he illuminated an experience of growing up in a culture of fear and violence.

Source: Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up – The New York Times

The Disadvantages of Peace (According to Michael Desch)

Thanks to Professor Walt, we get this interesting peace on academic research by Michael Desch in International Organization in 1996 on why giving peace a chance may not work.

Don’t get me wrong: I think peace is wonderful, and I wish more politicians talked about it openly and did more to further it. But prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen.But prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen. Even worse, they may eventually drive the world back toward war.

Source: The Case Against Peace | Foreign Policy

Over the last two decades, Walt sees this idea as better than other IR standards such as the “end of history” or “clash of civilizations”.

Advising Someone You Hate

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What do you do when you disagree with your boss? What about when your supervisor plays an important policy role? OK, keep going here…what if your boss is POTUS….President Trump? (And you despise him?)

This intellectual exercise-cum-mindgame played out here, outlining two paths that can be followed by smart people who disagree with their superiors–the inside or the outside path:

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote an interesting essay in Middle East Law and Governance about what Syria experts should do when it’s obvious that the current administration does not share their assumptions that indirectly touches on this quandry. In essence, he notes that there are inside and outside paths. The inside path is all about having a direct “policy impact” on the policymaker. But if the people in power do not share one’s basic assumptions, then the outside path — op-eds, essays, media appearances — might be the proper course of action:

Because there are so many different paths to influencing policy and so much uncertainty over the exact nature of that influence (to say nothing of lag time effects), policy researchers shouldn’t necessarily make policy impact into an all-consuming objective. In this respect, influencing policy is a bit like love: you hope it happens, but you also don’t want to try too hard. We should write with a mind to helping shape, broaden, and enrich a public conversation (in the implicit hope that, over time, innovative outside-the-box ideas – assuming they’re good – will be recognized by someone, somewhere in government and at the right time).

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/02/10/the-ethics-of-advising-donald-trump/