Windows of vulnerability or cognitive illusions? Cognitive processes and the nuclear arms race

Windows of vulnerability or cognitive illusions? Cognitive processes and the nuclear arms race

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. January
1989, Vol. 25, Issue 1, Pages 79–100

Recent analyses of the nuclear arms race have emphasized the role of psychological processes in nations’ decisions to arm themselves. The present research was designed to investigate several hypotheses regarding the effects of two cognitive processes, decision framing, and social differentiation, on decisions to allocate economic resources to increase security. It was predicted that decision makers would allocate more resources to security (arm themselves at higher levels) when decision frame implied high deficits in security and when the perceived level of social differentiation in their groups was high. To test these hypotheses, two experiments were conducted using a laboratory simulation of an arms race. The results of both experiments support the decision framing hypothesis. Support for the social differentiation hypothesis was more equivocal. Although social differentiation based upon perceptions of “common fate” had inconsistent effects on behavior, differentiation based upon naturally occurring social categories affected decision making in the predicted direction.

This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BNS8302674 to Dr. Marilynn Brewer and funds were provided by Stanford Graduate School of Business.