‘Hypotheses on Misperception’ by Jervis(1968)

In previous weeks, we discussed that people are not always rational. In Fearon’s article for instance, we also touched upon the problems in miscalculation of capabilities and probabilities of war and also the problem of uncertainty of others’ capabilities and intentions.

We continued with deterrence and spiral models to decide how
to evaluate and respond the other’s actions by referring the risks of misunderstanding and mistreating other actors. In Jervis’ article,
‘Hypothesis on Misperception’ (1968), we read 15 hypotheses about how different an actor perceive the situation and/ or data based on his/her relations, past experiences, historical knowledge and emotions towards the other(s). Therefore, according to
Jervis, it is important for an actor how he/she is ‘wedded to the established view or closed to new info.’(p.459) In addition, according to Jervis, ‘pure empiricism is impossible’
as we have beliefs, theories to understand and explain the reality and also emotions.(pp.457-458) Furthermore, Jervis gives a prescription composed of 5 ‘safeguards’ based on previous
assumptions. These safeguards basically highlight the neces
sity of being aware of unbiased interpretations, of not being tied to theories and images of other actors, of having devil’s advocate(s) around and making as much as observable beliefs, assumptions and predictions.(pp. 462-466)
He also puts emphasis on cognitive threshold as perceptions matter. Thus, in ‘Sources of Concepts’ part in the article, he underlines the existence of a concept in an actor, in IR, it first comes from the actor’s belief in his/her own domestic political system and after that previous experiences and international history. By pointing this out, Jervis also asserts that if the experience or historical event is recent, the states person will know better and will frame the situation according to this event easily. (pp- 466-469)
To conclude, I would say that I really benefited from the
reading as it opens another framework to understand the actors’ positions, regarding emotions and (mis)perception, the
only thing I would ask to what extent and actor should make as
sumptions, beliefs and predictions explicitly because it can make easy to follow the actor from his/her fellows but it
can also make vulnerable the actor.

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