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The Psychology of StrategyExploring Rationality in the Vietnam War$
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Kenneth Payne

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190227234

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190227234.001.0001

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Risk and the Fog of War

Risk and the Fog of War

(p.143) 6 Risk and the Fog of War
The Psychology of Strategy

Kenneth Payne

Oxford University Press

Strategy entails making judgements about risk and probability. Humans depart from theoretical rationality in gauging risk in a number of ways, including exaggerating the likelihood of low-probability but highly vivid events. They also overestimate their own capacity to influence events, via an optimism bias. Additionally, they are inclined to be much more tolerant of risk when they perceive themselves to be losing, relative to some goal. Lastly, their emotions at the time they make a decision shape their appetite for risk. These tendencies are explored in the context of Vietnam by considering, among other episodes, Defense Secretary McNamara’s change of mind on the war and President Nixon’s approach to bombing.

Keywords:   risk, probability, optimism bias, priming, Prospect Theory, war, strategy, Vietnam, Nixon, bombing

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