Who Ups the Ante? Personality Traits and Risky Foreign Policy Open Access

Gallagher, Maryann E. (2010)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9s161690d?locale=en


Who Ups the Ante? Personality Traits and Risky Foreign Policy
By Maryann E. Gallagher
Why do some leaders take foreign policy risks, while others do not? To answer this
question scholars of international relations have largely relied on theories of risk-taking,
such as Kahneman and Tversky's (1979) prospect theory, which focus on the role of
situational circumstances rather than differences among individuals. This dissertation,
however, argues that foreign policy risk-taking can be explained by examining
differences in leaders' inherent risk propensities. It develops a personality-led theory of
risk-taking based on the results of studies in behavioral economics, organizational
psychology, trait psychology, and political psychology, which indicate that differences in
individuals' inherent risk propensities are linked to personality traits. Using data on U.S.
Presidents' Big Five personality traits, the theory is assessed statistically through two
chapters examining presidents' decisions to initiate and escalate international conflicts.
These chapters are followed by two case studies of presidential decision making during
crises: Harry Truman during the 1948 Berlin Blockade, and John F. Kennedy during the
1961 Berlin ultimatum crisis. While the results of these four empirical chapters are mixed
in regards to specific risk-related personality traits, they overall suggest that leaders'
inherent risk propensities significantly influence their decisions to initiate conflicts and
use force to carry out their policy objectives. This dissertation is the first study to apply
the Big Five, the dominant paradigm in trait psychology, to leaders' foreign policy
behaviors, and opens the door for future studies in political science to develop and test
leader-level theories using objective measures of personality traits.

Who Ups the Ante? Personality Traits and Risky Foreign Policy
Maryann E. Gallagher
B.A., Drew University 2001
M.A., Emory University, 2007
Advisor: Dan Reiter, Ph.D.
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the
James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies of Emory University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
in Political Science

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction 1
1.1. A Personality-led Theory of Risk-taking 1
1.2. Assessing the Influence of Personality Traits on Foreign 6
Policy Decisions
1.2.1. Quantitative Analysis 6
1.2.2. Qualitative Analysis 9
1.3. Layout of the Dissertation 11

Chapter 2. Literature Review & Theory 13
2.1. Risk-Taking in International Relations 14
2.1.1. Expected Utility Theory 17
2.1.2. Prospect Theory 21
2.2. The Influence of Leaders' Personalities 37
2.2.1. Leaders' Personalities 39
2.3. The Big Five Model 52
2.3.1. What is the Big Five? 53
2.4. A Personality-Led Theory of Risk-Taking 69
2.4.1 Inherent Risk Orientation 70
2.4.2. Hypotheses 81
2.5. Conclusion 89

Chapter 3. Issues of Research Design 91
3.1. Big Five Scores of U.S. Presidents 92
3.1.1. Assessing Presidents' Personality Traits 92
3.1.2. Comparing Presidents' Personality Traits 93
3.2. Empirically Assessing Presidents Traits and Risk-Taking 97
3.2.1. Quantitative Analysis 97
3.2.2. Qualitative Analysis 101

Chapter 4. The Use of Force as Risk-Taking 105
4.1. Overview of the Data Sets 105
4.1.1. U.S. Uses of Force 106
4.1.2. Militarized Interstate Disputes 108
4.1.3. Opportunities to Use Force 110
4.1.4. Summary of Key Independent and Dependent Variables 111
4.2. Testing the Theory 115
4.2.1. Hypotheses 115
4.2.2. Control Variables 116
4.2.3. Equations 120
4.3. Analysis and Results 121
4.3.1. Count Models 126
4.4. Discussion 131

Chapter 5. Crisis Escalation as Risk-Taking 139
5.1. Overview of the Data Sets 139
5.1.1. Crises 140
5.1.2. Conflicts 146
5.2. Testing the Theory 149
5.2.1. Hypotheses 149
5.2.2. Control Variables 150
5.2.3. Equations 151
5.3. Analysis and Results 151
5.3.1. Crisis Escalation 151
5.3.2. Alternative Set of Crises - All Cases of U.S. Involvement 155
5.3.3. Conflict Escalation 159
5.3.4. Selection Bias 162
5.4. Discussion 166

Chapter 6. Harry Truman and the Berlin Blockade 171
6.1. Harry Truman 173
6.1.1. Truman's underlying risk propensity 175
6.2. The 1948 Berlin Blockade 179
6.2.1. Relative Riskiness of the Alternative Strategies 195
6.2.2. Truman's Decision 197
6.3. Discussion of Case 200

Chapter 7. John F. Kennedy and the 1961 Berlin Crisis 206
7.1. John F. Kennedy 207
7.1.1 Kennedy's underlying risk propensity 211
7.2. The 1961 Berlin Crisis 213
7.2.1. Relative Riskiness of Alternative Strategies 225
7.2.2. Kennedy's Decision 228
7.3. Discussion of Case 231

Chapter 8. Conclusion 240
8.1. Summary & Discussion of Results 243
8.2. Avenues for Future Development 250

Appendix A 254

References 255

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