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The Self-Perpetuating National Self-Image: Cognitive Biases in Perceptions of International Interventions

Matthew S. Hirshberg
Political Psychology
Vol. 14, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 77-98
DOI: 10.2307/3791394
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3791394
Page Count: 22
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The Self-Perpetuating National Self-Image: Cognitive Biases in Perceptions of International Interventions
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Abstract

Citizens tend to hold positive, stereotyped conceptions of their own nations. Public perceptions of a nation's international involvements are guided by those patriotic stereotypes and serve to reify and perpetuate the stereotypes upon which they are based. The perpetuation of a positive national self-image helps to maintain political order, public acquiescence and policy support. Two experiments demonstrate cognitive effects of the stereotyped American self-image on perceptions of U.S. interventions. In the first experiment, subjects tended to recall stereotype-consistent interventions (U.S. support for democracy or opposition to communism), but not inconsistent intervention (U.S. opposition to democracy). The stereotype structured recall, creating perceptions which confirmed it. In the second experiment, subjects attributed helpful U.S. intervention to the nation's nature, while harmful intervention was more likely to be blamed on some outside force. Belief in American virtue biased interpretations of the interventions such that the United States continued to appear virtuous.

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