The Psychology and Politics of Sense Making

Winter 2013
Professor Robert Axelrod

Political Science 793
1230 Weill Hall, Thursdays 4-6

The process of sense making relates new information to previous beliefs in a way that (hopefully) helps one function well in the real world. Sense making is ubiquitous and typically involves attribution, framing, pattern recognition, learning, and emotion.

This research seminar will be thoroughly interdisciplinary because theories and evidence about sense making come from many disciplines. Examples include:

  • Political science (campaign politics and foreign policy decision making),
  • Cognitive psychology (e.g., inference, analogizing and framing),
  • Social psychology (e.g. cognitive consistency and social influence),
  • Anthropology (e.g., shared culture and ethnocentrism),
  • Economics (especially behavioral economics),
  • Business (especially advertising),
  • Sociology (e.g., social mobilization), and
  • Artificial Intelligence (e.g., case-based reasoning)

Across disciplines, sense making helps us understand topics such as leadership, learning, preference formation providing input to deliberate choice, terrorist recruitment, the power of sacred values, use of historical analogies, and dynamics of identity. The course will require several short papers and a major research paper. Students will be encouraged to select a research topic that might be relevant to their dissertation.