Robert Jervis- Hypotheses on Misperception

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McGill University
Political Science
POLI 244
Jason Scott Ferrell

Robert Jervis: Hypotheses on Misperception An actor has to try to predict how others will act and how their actions will affect his values in determining how he will act. Theories -> Necessary and Dangerous  Hypothesis 1: Actors tend to perceive what they expect. A theory will have greater impact on an actor’s interpretation of data the greater the ambiguity of the data and the higher the degree of confidence with which the actor holds the theory  Hypothesis 2: Actors tend to establish their theories and expectations prematurely – often necessary given the need for action in politics.  Evidence is usually always ambiguous since accurate clues to others’ intentions are surrounded by noise and deception.  Hypothesis 3: actors can more easily assimilate into their established image of another actor information contradicting that image if the information is transmitted and considered bit by bit than if it all comes at once. Safeguards – able to minimize error in their inferences  1)decision makers should be aware they don’t make unbiased interpretations of each new bit of incoming information, but instead are influenced by the theories they expect to be verified; *Many events provide less independent support fo the decision maker’s images than they may at first realize.  2) Should see if their attitudes contain consistent or supporting beliefs that are not logically linked. Eg. Most people who think it’s important for the US to win the Vietnam war also believe that a meaningful victory is possible. Most people who feel defeat wouldn’t endanger US national security or be costly in terms of other values feel we can’t win  3) Make assumptions, beliefs and predictions that follow as explicit as possible.  4) Try to prevent individuals and organizations from letting their main task, political future and identity become tied to specific theories and images of other actors.  5) Decision makers should realize the validity and implications of the argument that “a willingness to play with material from different angles and in the contest of unpopular as well as popular hypotheses is an essential ingredient of a good detective, whether the end is the solution of a crime or an intelligence estimate. Sources of concepts: An actor’s perceptual thresholds are very much influenced by what he has experienced and learned about. If an actor wants to place information into a certain category it would seem evident that he would have had to off learned about that category in the first place. Measuring the level of presence or absence of categories: 1) Missing: The actors cognitive structure may not include anything corresponding to the phenomenon he is encountering this continues to be the case in a world of constant rapid change. 2) Presence of a concept to which the actor believes has no relevance: A good example is of how communists think of democracies and how democracies think of communist countries and governments 3) Actor holds the concept but believes the other actor doesn't fill it: A good example is the British and French fighting over what to do with Germany after World War 1.The French came down the hardest on the Germans, ut how could they think the world is titled to Napoleon's but not Hitler's this is very self contradictory. Misperception is most difficult to correct in the case of a missing concept and least difficult to correct in the case of a recognized but presumably unfilled concept. - An actors belief about his own domestic policy is always extremely important. Sometimes being tied down to a frame of ideology can really have an effect on your policy towards foreign affairs. For example, during World War 1, the United States could not understand the bitterness of European countries towards one another. Secondly the interpretation of concepts will be supplied by the actors previous experiences. For example, it has been said that Chamberlain was slow to recognize Hitler's intentions partly because of the limiting nature of his personal background and business experiences. Another good example is that a higher percentage of anti-appeasers had the kind of knowledge that comes from close acquaintance (mostly professional) with foreign affairs. In an experiment, pictures were shown to both veteran police officers and new police officers (more aggression was interpreted in the faces of the people in the pictures by veteran police officers who had been more heavily trained). A third concept is the importance of international history. As Henry Kissinger points out, historical traumas can heavily influence future perceptions. A states pr
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