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Jervis: Hypotheses on misperception

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Jervis. 1968. Hypotheses on misperception. World Politics 20 (April): 454-79.

Jervis challenges the rational-choice view of international relations by arguing that misperception can undermine the real-world accuracy of game theoretic models.

Hypothesis 1: "Decision-makers tend to fit incoming information into their existing theories and images."

Hypothesis 2: There are two ways to make mistakes: One is to not change your views in the face of conflicting information, the other is to be too willing to do so. Both scholars and decision-makes are more likely to do the first (not to change their views).

Hypothesis 3: It's easier to integrate contradicting information into your image if it comes bit-by-bit than if it comes all at once. So deliver it all at once, as a fully-formed competing theory that must be reckoned with.

Hypothesis 4: Misperception is easiest to correct if an actor is miscategorized (but the category exists in your head) (e.g. Britain was aware of the category of expansionist states, but it didn't think Hitler belonged in it); it is hardest to correct if your mind completely lacks a certain category (e.g. China in the 19th century didn't know what to make of the West)

Hypothesis 5: If the sender (of a message) has something different on his mind (the "evoked set") than the receiver does, misunderstanding is likely.

Hypothesis 6: The more time I spend drawing up a plan, the more clear it is to me. So I will assume it is equally clear to you, making misperception on your part even more likely.

Hypothesis 7: An action may convey an unintended message if the action itself doesn't turn out as planned.

Hypotheses about Perception

Hypothesis 8: Decision-makers tend to see other states as more hostile than they are.

Hypothesis 9: We tend to assume that the behavior of others is more centralized and coordinated than it is (related to hyp. 7).

Hypothesis 10: Similarly, we tend to take the foreign ministry's position as representative of the government as a whole.

Hypothesis 11: When states do something w like, we give ourselves too much credit for getting them to do so; when states do something we don't like, we attribute it mostly to internal (domestic) forces.

Hypothesis 12: When I don't try to conceal my intentions, I assume that you accurately perceive them.

Hypothesis 13 "Suggests that if it is hard for an actor to believe that the other can see him as a menace, it is often even harder for him to see that issues important to him are not important to others.

Hypothesis 14: We tend to forget that a single bit of evidence might support more than one view, including opposing views. See also Allison on this point.

Research by the same authors

  • Jervis: Cooperation under the security dilemma
  • Jervis: War and misperception

Research on similar subjects

  • Fearon: Rationalist explanations for war (3 shared tags)
  • Gartzke: War is in the error term (3 shared tags)
  • Gourevitch: The governance problem in international relations (3 shared tags)
  • Jervis: War and misperception (3 shared tags)
  • Kahler: Rationality in international relations (3 shared tags)
  • Lake and Rothchild: Containing fear (3 shared tags)
  • Morrow: The strategic setting of choices (3 shared tags)
  • Stein: When misperception matters (3 shared tags)

Jervis, Robert (author) • International Relations • Perception • Information • Rational Choice • Preferences

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Hypotheses on Misperception

Profile image of Robert Jervis

1968, World Politics

In determining how he will behave, an actor must try to predict how others will act and how their actions will affect his values. The actor must therefore develop an image of others and of their intentions. This image may, however, turn out to be an inaccurate one; the actor may, for a number of reasons, misperceive both others’ actions and their intentions. In this research note I wish to discuss the types of misperceptions of other states’ intentions which states tend to make. The concept of intention is complex, but here we can consider it to comprise the ways in which the state feels it will act in a wide range of future contingencies. These ways of acting usually are not specific and well-developed plans. For many reasons a national or individual actor may not know how he will act under given conditions, but this problem cannot be dealt with here.

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War has so many causes-in part because there are so many kinds of wars-and misperception has so many effects-again in part because there are so many kinds of misperceptions-that it is not possible to draw any definitive conclusions about the impact of misperception on war.1 But we can address some conceptual and methodological problems, note several patterns, and try to see how misperceptions might lead to World War III. In this article, I use the term misperception broadly, to include inaccurate inferences, miscalculations of consequences , and misjudgments about how others will react to one's policies. Although war can occur even when both sides see each other accurately, misperception often plays a large role. Particularly interesting are judgments and misjudgments of another state's intentions. Both overestimates and underestimates of hostility have led to war in the past, and much of the current debate about policy toward the Soviet Union revolves around different judgments about how that country would respond to American policies that were either firm or conciliatory. Since statesmen know that a war between the United States and the Soviet Union would be incredibly destructive, however, it is hard to see how errors of judgment, even errors like those that have led to past wars, could have the same effect today. But perceptual dynamics could cause statesmen to see policies as safe when they actually were very dangerous or, in the final stages of deep conflict, to see war as inevitable and therefore to see striking first as the only way to limit destruction. POSSIBLE AREAS OF MISPERCEPTION Although this article will concentrate on misperceptions of intentions of potential adversar

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This essay is an analysis of the implications of misperception - the inaccurate assessment by one actor of the other actor's preferences - in international relations. The author finds that misperception cannot affect the choice of an actor with a dominant strategy, although it can affect that actor's expectations as long as both actors are self-interested and seek to maximize their own payoffs. Misperception creates conflict only in a narrowly circumscribed range of situations, and even then the misperceived actor has no incentive to mask its true preferences. An actor who deceives does so in order to facilitate coordination through the other's misperception of its preferences, and thus to avoid conflict - not to create it. Three possible outcomes can occur when both actors misperceive, and in only one of the three does misperception cause conflict that would otherwise be avoidable. In a formal analysis of the limited set of situations that characterize international crises, misperception is found neither to create conflict nor to lead to the escalation of crisis into war.

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  • Robert Jervis. 1968. Hypotheses on Misperception

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Jervis' decision making hypotheses, ....................... work in progress....................



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