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My interest in political psychology began in graduate school and guided by dissertation research into the nature of prejudice. White Britain and Black Ireland: The Nature of Colonial Stereotypes argues that much prejudice is innocently assimilated and can be combatted by contact and learning. A more fundamental cause of prejudice is the contradiction between behavior and beliefs. The resulting dissonance can be reduced by stereotypes that remove ill-treated minorities and colonized peoples from the domain where accepted values and practices apply. This is why stereotypes of diverse colonial peoples were so similar.
My next major project brought psychological insights to the study of deterrence. The second selection in this volume summarizes the critique Janice Stein and I developed of deterrence as a strategy of conflict management. It emphasizes the ways in which perceived political needs lead to motivated bias and discounting of risk, and also how threat-based strategies can transform the nature of what the targets of deterrence understand to be at stake. Together, these psychological mechanisms combine to encourage challenges even when would-be deterrers have defined and communicated their commitments and taken efforts to make credible their threats of punishment. These findings have important implications for conflict management, a theme Janice Stein and explore in a series of singly and jointly authored follow-on papers.
Psychology also lies at the core of my experimental work on counterfactuals. The article included in this collection, coauthored with Phil Tetlock, uses counterfactual priming to demonstrate how vividness affects estimates of contingency. Most interesting, the response of people from the U.S. national security community revealed two different patterns of thinking—deductive and inductive—that correlated with a need or preference for psychological closure, and different degrees of openness to the implications of counterfactuals.