Do participants and observers assess intentions differently during bargaining and conflict?

Eric S. Dickson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Political actors in conflict settings are often uncertain about their counterparts' intentions. This article explores the psychology of how intentions are assessed using a novel experimental design that randomly assigns subjects to one of three roles - "proposer," "recipient," or "observer." Recipients and observers are given identical noisy information about proposers' actions, and make postplay assessments of proposers' intentions that are rewarded based on accuracy. A first experiment explores a context of ambiguity, while a second experiment explores a context of uncertainty. The results suggest that actors' perceptions can sometimes be directly affected by the set of strategic alternatives they possess. When signals about proposer behavior appear "negative," recipients' assessments of proposers' intentions are more negative than observers' assessments if recipients have the ability to respond to the proposer's action - but not if recipients lack this ability. The ability to respond to proposer behavior appears to cause recipients to make more negative inferences about the proposer than circumstances warrant. Interestingly, recipients' and observers' assessments are indistinguishable when signals about proposer behavior instead appear "positive."

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)910-930
    Number of pages21
    JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Oct 2009

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


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