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Rethinking and Reconceptualizing Risk in Foreign Policy Decision-Making: A Sociocognitive Approach

Yaacov Y. I. Vertzberger
Political Psychology
Vol. 16, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 347-380
DOI: 10.2307/3791835
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3791835
Page Count: 34
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Rethinking and Reconceptualizing Risk in Foreign Policy
                            Decision-Making: A Sociocognitive Approach
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Abstract

This essay calls both for much greater attention to a relatively neglected but critical issue-area in foreign policy analysis, that of risk, and for a departure from a rational choice approach in the direction of a sociocognitive approach to risk. The sociocognitive approach to risk and risk-taking introduced here represents a substantial departure from the rational choice approach that has dominated the study of risk in foreign policy decision-making. The essay redefines and reconceptualizes the nature of risk in international politics in a manner that is in our view more consistent with actual decision-makers' behavior. Unlike the "black boxing" of the concept of risk that is evident in the rational choice approach to studies of risk, this study opens the "black box" by first disaggregating it into actual risk, perceived risk, and acceptable risk-and then by detailing the attributes of risk. This, we believe, is an essential first step toward a more realistic, accurate, and policy-relevant analysis. The approach presented here views risk as a social construct. Therefore, in explaining diversity in risk preferences, we focus on the taste for risk as a source of variety in risk preference across individuals, and on the process of problem-framing and communication. How risks are framed, especially when problems are ill-defined, becomes highly consequential for how decision-makers will understand and respond to it, and how effectively risk will be communicated both within the decision-making system as well as to outsiders.

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