Research and Working Papers

Dissertation (Abstract):

Fanatics, Fools and Madmen: The Causes and Consequences of Perceived Irrationality in International Politics:

Why do people arrive at the belief that foreign rivals are delusional, foolish, or downright crazy, and how do they prefer to approach international conflicts with such apparently ‘mad’ adversaries?  Do they advocate diplomacy out of an abundance of caution, or assume that military force is the only language such enemies understand?  Theory and practice provide conflicting answers to these questions.  Leaders frequently brand adversaries as unpredictable madmen in an apparent attempt to underscore the futility of negotiation and garner support for military action from domestic or international audiences.  Yet the “madman theory” suggests people should be less likely to support force if they believe an opponent is crazy, and that actors therefore should and do attempt to brand themselves as irrational.   Two questions remain open; first, what informs people’s beliefs about the rationality of how adversary leaders think: the adversary’s words, actions, or identity?  Second, how does variation in these beliefs impact preferences for diplomacy versus force in international conflict?  The answers to these questions have major implications for international politics, diplomacy, and war; they could inform our understanding of issues such as the fate of ‘Rogue’ leaders, American opinion on war with North Korea, or the response of US allies and enemies alike to the apparent erraticism of President Trump.

In my dissertation, I treat perceived rationality as a spectrum with two dimensions: perceived objectivity and perceived competence.  I argue that while individuals’ beliefs about adversaries’ rationality are ostensibly based on their assessment of foreign leaders’ behavior, these assessments are filtered through prisms of ideology, status, and racial or cultural stereotypes.  These beliefs, in turn, shape preferences and choices in international conflict.  People are less likely to attempt persuasion via dialogue with actors they believe are biased, less inclined to make concessions to actors they believe are incompetent, and may abstain from all diplomacy with those they believe are not objective or competent enough to be capable of sound judgment.  

I test my arguments using a mixture of experimental methods and in depth case work focused on US decision-making in the Korean War.  The experiments directly test my theory at the level of the mass public and aids in the development and refinement of theories that work at the elite level.  The case study directly examines the applicability of my theory at the level of elite decision-makers, and establishes the existence of a cyclical relationship between the beliefs and policy preferences of elites and the public.

Working Papers:

Is a Picture Worth 280 Characters?: Image Theory and Heuristic Judgments about Foreign States in the Twitter Era (With Caleb Promeroy and Elias Assaf):

Image theory posits that people form comprehensive mental representations of foreign actors from even small amounts of information, and that these representations shape foreign policy preferences and attitudes. However, image theory has a blind spot in the “twitter era.” Large percentages of the American public get their news from social media platforms, where text is brief, visuals are ubiquitous, and contradictory information is difficult to avoid. Largely built upon studies that employed vignette-length texts, the image theory literature at present proffers little empirical basis from which to hypothesize about this evolving new media environment,including how brief textual posts or visuals interact with the traditional theoretical components of culture, capabilities, and perceived threat or opportunity. We conduct a survey experiment to test a foundational proposition of image theory – that people form comprehensive beliefs about foreign states from small amounts of information – in light of three central characteristics of the modern information environment: minimal information, visual information, and information competition. We focus on how limited visual and textual information, in the form of a tweet,shapes public attitudes towards a foreign state as well as prospective US policy towards said foreign state. We find that even minimal visual and textual information has a strong impact on respondents’ attitudes toward the foreign state and perceptions of the state’s leaders and populous. Further, a moderate impact on policy preferences is detected and begs subsequent investigation. Future tests will independently randomize visual and textual cues to address the issue of style vs. substance: what is the relative importance of the style (visual vs. textual) as opposed to the substance (content) of information in determining how it is interpreted?

Fight or Flight: Emotions and the Microfoundations of Counterhegemonic Balancing (With Joshua Byun and D.G. Kim)


Does the fear of domination lead decision-makers and publics to endorse hawkish policies against militarily rising powers in an anarchic environment? Revisiting the IR literature's traditional assumption that the fear of adverse power shifts supplies the behavioral microfoundation of interstate competition and conflict, this paper tests the role of specific negative emotions—anger and fear—as distinct affective bases for counterhegemonic foreign policies. Evidence from a survey experiment on the American public and an original Japanese public opinion survey suggests that primarily fearful individuals are no more likely to favor competitive or aggressive policies over accommodative policy options when facing emergent threats of hegemony. Instead, it is anger that uniformly conditions individuals to prefer hawkish policies toward the rising power. This paper is the first in the field of International Relations to theorize and test the role of specific emotions in conditioning foreign policy preferences vis-à-vis rising hegemonic threats. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for the promises and challenges of applying emotion-based behavioral theories to the study of international politics. 

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