Behavioral IR: Practical Suggestions

PATRICK JAMES
2007 International Studies Review  
a new subfield, Behavioral IR, is introduced in this essay. Its goal is to enrich the study of international affairs by incorporating Behavioral concepts and factors into IR research (Mintz 2005a). Six characteristics of Behavioral IR were introduced as well as relevant concepts, units of analysis, methods, and potential research questions. Behavioral IR is concerned with how cognitive limitations, psychological factors, and susceptibility to biases affect IR. The goal of Behavioral IR is to
more » ... ich understanding of international politics. Mintz in the previous essay in this Forum advocates a potentially exciting addition to the disciplinary matrix of IR: the creation of Behavioral IR. Such a subfield would recognize the value of going beyond rational choice as a vision of human behavior, while at the same time seeking to complement rather than eliminate that way of looking at the world. Behavioral IR, according to Mintz, also would bring greater unity and coherence to approaches from political psychology that have proven to be valuable on an individual basis. Mintz identifies a range of "biases and anomalies" that continue to challenge rationality models of decision making, such as framing effects, wishful thinking, and groupthink, among others. For such reasons, he sees Behavioral IR as a way to bring together various strands from political psychology to enhance explanatory power. This essay, which is intended to extend Mintz's introduction to Behavioral IR, will proceed in three stages. Discussion will begin with a specific suggestion about what to do next in the promotion and development of this subfield. This proposal is followed by a consideration of some basic issues, such as the role of Behavioral IR in accounting for preference formation and problems related to scientific progress, which are critical to its becoming a subfield. Finally, some concluding thoughts will convey a positive position on the viability of Behavioral IR as a subfield of IR. What to Do Next? What might be done to develop the subfield of Behavioral IR, now that it exists in the abstract? One possible step forward would be to create a new section in the International Studies Association (ISA) to enhance communication and synergy among a latent research community. Within ISA as it currently exists, some sections would appear to overlap significantly with the mandate of Behavioral IR, whereas others are more distant. Among the fairly obvious cognate sections are diplomatic studies, foreign policy analysis, and the scientific study of international processes. Each of these sections involves scholars who study behavior, even though these sections are identified more by their respective substantive agendas and methods than by an ontology that corresponds to the one put forward by Mintz. For example, the first and third sections mentioned above contrast in their general adoption of qualitative and quantitative methods, respectively. The second section is perhaps closer to Behavioral IR than any other in the ISA, but its members do not actively seek a synthesis of the kind advocated by Mintz. Thus, a new Behavioral IR section in ISA might have value in facilitating dialogue between and among existing sections that, in some cases, tend to work independently. This point comes directly to mind when looking over Mintz's list of questions that could be studied using Behavioral IR. War initiation appears on the list, along with strategic surprise, the Behavioral IR as a Subfield of International Relations 162
doi:10.1111/j.1468-2486.2007.00669_2.x fatcat:5nub34663ne5rilnf5rqcmim54