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Stein: When misperception matters

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Stein. 1982. When misperception matters. World Politics 34 (July): 505-526.

[From handout]

Point: Misperception does not always affect an actor's choices or determine outcome. Indeed, Stein argues that when misperception does matter, it is in a much narrower range than previously thought, and that misperception can lead to cooperation as well as conflict. Additionally, previous discussions of misperceptions focused on crisis situations, which entails a selection effect, making the assessment of the impact of misperception inaccurate.

X: misperception

Y: international conflict

Place in the literature: Stein criticizes Jervis in that we don't know what situations facilitate misperception, and what the consequences are. Stein also criticizes Snyder and Diesing's work, particularly the assumption that misperception affects an actor's choice and thus changes a game's outcome.

When Misperception Matters:

  • Stein: if states are self-interested maximizers, then misperception matters only in certain situations
  • The closer the international situation approximates a competitive market, intentions of one actor don't matter. However, when there are only a few major powers (approximates an oligopoly) then actors are less independent.
  • Misperception can only happen in a variable sum game.
  • Additionally, states must have choices. If an actor has a dominant strategy, then misperception is irrelevant. Thus, misperception only matters when the decision of an actor is contingent on the actions of another actor.
  • If an actor misperceives another actor as having a dominant strategy, this can facilitate mutual defection and the avoidance of war.
  • In those cases in which misperception can cause conflict, the misperceived actor has no desire to mask its true preferences.