The Behavioral Psychology of Elite Decision Making: Implications for Political Cooperation

A talk by Emilie Hafner-Burton and David Victor, professors at the UC San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and co-Directors of the School's new Laboratory on International Law and Regulation.

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Duration: 1:01:18

Emilie Hafner-Burton is a professor at UC San Diego's School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and Director of the School’s new Laboratory on International Law and Regulation.  Looking across a wide array of issues from environment and energy to human rights, trade and security, the Laboratory explores when (and why) international laws actually work. Most recently, Hafner-Burton served as professor of politics and public policy at Princeton University, where she held joint appointments in the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School for International and Public Affairs.

David G. Victor is a professor at the UCSD School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and Director of the School’s new Laboratory on International Law and Regulation. His research focuses on how the design of regulatory law affects issues such as environmental pollution and the operation of major energy markets. He is author of Global Warming Gridlock, which explains why the world hasn't made much diplomatic progress on the problem of climate change while also exploring new strategies that would be more effective.

Using experiments drawn from behavioral economics and cognitive psychology and a substantive survey focused on international trade treaties, Hafner-Burton and Victor suggest that the personality traits of the people asked to play key roles in negotiating, ratifying and implementing international treaties also shape their preferences for how treaties are designed and put into practice. Patient subjects were more likely to seek treaties with large numbers of issues and countries (and thus larger long-term benefits) and to lobby for treaties that create long-term benefits by opening markets despite immediate adjustment costs.  Although theory suggests that enforcement plays a large role in effectiveness of international commitments, we find mixed and limited evidence that enforcement has much impact on our subjects’ willingness to join treaties. We also find that subjects with the skill to anticipate how other players will respond over multiple iterations of strategic games are much more likely to favor treatydesigns that involve large numbers of countries.  In contrast with players who have fewer strategic skills, these players are likely to imagine that the strategic challenges of large membership are manageable. Our study, based on a sample of [550] university students, provides a baseline for future experimental and survey research on actual policy elites who design and implement treaties.