Thesis: Demonstrate decision-makers’ perceptions of the world and of other actors diverge from reality in detectable patterns that may be understood. Jervis analyzes the methods by which decision-makers process information and then form, maintain, and change their beliefs about international relations and other actors. Additionally, Jervis examines several common misperceptions of decision-makers.
Deterrence Model (theory): Central argument is that great dangers arise if an aggressor believes that the status quo powers are weak in capability or resolve, so therefore states must often go to extremes because moderation or conciliation will be seen as weakness.
The spiral model: “Action does not always equal intent” expresses the security dilemma, that because a state cannot always determine whether another state’s actions are aggressive, it must assume the worst and purchase as many weapons as it can afford. While state A may perceive the purchase of arms by state B to indicate the aggressiveness of state B, state A does not apply this same reasoning to its own purchase of arms.
“Because the effect of initiatives and threats depends to a large extent on the other’s intentions and its perceptions of the first state, people who are debating policy should not only realize what they are arguing about but should also ask themselves what possible behavior on the part of the adversary would they take as evidence against the interpretation that they hold.” (Jarvis, 112)
Only through both theories can one arrive at the best-case solution.
Rational consistency occurs if the cognitive consistency can be explained by the actor’s well-grounded beliefs about the consistency existing in the environment, he is perceiving (think two friends will like each other). Jarvis asserts that what one learns from key events in international history is an important factor in determining images that shape the interpretation of incoming information). He then discusses how people learn, through analogies, first-hand experience, early experiences, generational experiences, events that were important to their State or Organization, etc. These things drive them to make decisions based on those ideas instead of looking at situations anew. We also tend to overgeneralize and forget the challenges associated with our historical analogies. We assume the enemy is more organized and centralized than they really are. We assume we have more unity than we do – to include believing that those below us fully understand our decisions and that they are transmitted with coherence throughout the organization. We overestimate our own importance on the decisions made by the enemies (sometimes we are just lucky, they were just stupid or, things weren’t even connected). Jarvis further argues that a common misperception is to see the actions of others as more centralized, planned, and coordinated than they really are. Additionally, actors exaggerate the degree to which they play a central role in others’ policies. Desires and fears have the most impact when the perception matters least – the actor has no incentives to perceive accurately because the actor cannot act on what he believes will happen.
Cognitive dissonance: Dissonance theory postulates that people seek strong justification for their behavior. Two elements are in dissonance if, considering these two elements alone, the opposite of one element would follow from the other. In attempting to reduce dissonance, people will alter their beliefs and evaluations, which changes the premises of subsequent deliberations. Jervis concludes that decision-makers should be aware of the ways in which the processes of perception lead to common errors. People want to decide in ways that are consistent with their beliefs. As well, they want to keep cognitive consistency throughout their decisions (they will decide about events in ways that support their past decisions). We must move to the place that makes us feel dissonant. If we are cognitively comfortable, we may be shielding the full view.