Kahneman on Why Hawks Win

Anything written by psychologist Daniel Kahneman is usually worth reading, and his essay in the current issue of the journal Foreign Policy is no exception:

Modern psychology suggests that policymakers come to the debate
predisposed to believe their hawkish advisors more than the doves.
There are numerous reasons for the burden of persuasion that doves
carry, and some of them have nothing to do with politics or strategy.
In fact, a bias in favor of hawkish beliefs and preferences is built
into the fabric of the human mind.


  1. Very interesting, though I am tempted to ask why we humans seek to frame our behaviours in animal terms at every opportunity, aside of the stereotypical shorthand in such likening.
    At a simplistic level, hawkishness is about responding to ‘don’t just sit there, do something’, which favours action, any action, over deliberation, negotiation and discussion. The immediacy/ currency/ primacy driven style of hawkish arguing also papers over the more relevant discussions of sustainability of negotiated policy solutions.
    But why only talk of policy? Many strategic decisions in business are also made that way.

  2. Right, that was my point in posting it. Hawkishness pervades far more activities than policymaking, including investing and management alike.

  3. this is very interesting point you guys discussing here and has to do with what the social psychologists might call “generalizability” which is to some degree a holy grail. how broadly can the model be appropriately generalized across situations, populations and fields…
    when kahneman and tversky were constructing prospect theory (losses loom larger than gains), they, at some level, knew they were onto something big and so they took it v slowly and meticulously and only published the original after working on it for years.
    and one of the things they made sure to do was to keep the original work very tight empirically, very focused and very narrow.
    the result was a theory which could eventually be generalized broadly across a variety of modes involving an analysis of decision making from evolution to psychopathology to economics to poker to geopolitics to business…

  4. A bias in favor of action over inaction is hardly radical. This could also be described as a bias against patience.
    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but most things are broke, or will be, or appear to be.
    Inaction in the face of danger is cowardice and often takes the form of arguing that there is no danger.

  5. Paul Prescod says:

    The biases described are specifically towards confrontational rather than diplomatic action. And anyhow a “bias” in favor of action over inaction is almost by definition a bad thing. The costs and benefits of action and inaction should be compared without he biases either of “looking for action” or “being afraid of change.”

  6. lanceypoo says:

    this is why i read your blog.
    kahneman is the man.