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Hum Nat. 2012 Mar;23(1):98-126. doi: 10.1007/s12110-012-9134-z.

Dead certain: confidence and conservatism predict aggression in simulated international crisis decision-making.

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Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh, 15a George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LD, UK.


Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that confidence and conservatism promoted aggression in our ancestral past, and that this may have been an adaptive strategy given the prevailing costs and benefits of conflict. However, in modern environments, where the costs and benefits of conflict can be very different owing to the involvement of mass armies, sophisticated technology, and remote leadership, evolved tendencies toward high levels of confidence and conservatism may continue to be a contributory cause of aggression despite leading to greater costs and fewer benefits. The purpose of this paper is to test whether confidence and conservatism are indeed associated with greater levels of aggression-in an explicitly political domain. We present the results of an experiment examining people's levels of aggression in response to hypothetical international crises (a hostage crisis, a counter-insurgency campaign, and a coup). Levels of aggression (which range from concession to negotiation to military attack) were significantly predicted by subjects' (1) confidence that their chosen policy would succeed, (2) score on a liberal-conservative scale, (3) political party affiliation, and (4) preference for the use of military force in real-world U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran. We discuss the possible adaptive and maladaptive implications of confidence and conservatism for the prospects of war and peace in the modern world.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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