Psychological Aspects Of War

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Published In

Handbook On The Political Economy Of War


Large segments of the social sciences remain dominated by the idea that humans are “rational” beings, whose decisions and behavior can be understood and predicted by analysing the costs, benefits and risks at stake. Decades of research in experimental psychology have cast doubt on this model (Gilovich, Griffin and Kahneman 2002; Sears, Huddy and Jervis 2003; Fiske and Taylor 2007), and the recent financial crisis has driven the point home to economists and political economists alike (Akerlof and Shiller 2009). In many situations, humans are not rational decisionmakers. Instead, our judgments and decisions are dramatically influenced by a variety of psychological biases, and by physiological states of emotion, stress and other biochemical phenomena (such as hormones). Models that rely on rational choice are thus intrinsically built on flawed assumptions, even if they sometimes approximate observed behavior. Nowhere are these assumptions more important than understanding the causes and consequences of war, where the costs of poor decisions – and even of poor theoretical models underlying them – can be measured in blood and treasure. Rejecting or revising rational choice models does not mean the end of useful models or predictions. Deviations from the expectations of rational choice theory are not random or unpredictable. On the contrary, the findings of experimental psychology suggest that people have systematic, predictable judgment and decision-making biases in given contexts.


economics and finance, political economy, politics and public policy, international politics, international relations, political economy, terrorism and security

Published By

Edward Elgar


C. J. Coyne And R. L. Mathers

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