The Handbook on the Political Economy of War
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The Handbook on the Political Economy of War

Edited by Christopher J. Coyne and Rachel L. Mathers

By defining political economy and war in the broadest sense, this unique Handbook brings together a wide range of interdisciplinary scholars from economics, political science, sociology, and policy studies to address a multitude of important topics. These include an analysis of why wars begin, how wars are waged, what happens after war has ceased, and the various alternatives to war. Other sections explore civil war and revolution, the arms trade, economic and political systems, and post-conflict reconstruction and nation building. Policymakers as well as academics and students of political science, economics, public policy and sociology will find this volume to be an engaging and enlightening read.
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Chapter 5: Psychological Aspects of War

Iain Hardie, Dominic Johnson and Dominic Tierney


Iain Hardie, Dominic Johnson and Dominic Tierney 5.1 INTRODUCTION 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. If you know the context, you can predict (on average) how people will respond as well as the direction of...

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