Gains and losses in the eyes of the beholder: a comparative study of foreign policy decision making under risk
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Prospect theory is a descriptive model of individual decision-making under risk (Kahneman and Tversky 1979). The central tenet of prospect theory posits that the risk orientation of decision-makers is affected by the gains vs. losses domains in which they are situated. Individuals are predicted to be risk-averse in the domain of gains and risk seeking in the domain of losses. Although prospect theory made significant contributions to decision theory, it has important limitations. Foremost, as noted by Levy (1997a), prospect theory is not a complete theory of decision-making. Like rational choice theory, prospect theory attempts to explain choices or outcomes, not the processes through which those choices come about (Abelson and Levi 1985, 235). In response to this limitation of prospect theory, this dissertation intends to address the following set of puzzles: Do gains vs. losses domains affect the decision processes in foreign policy decision making? If so, in what way will decision strategies change? That is, what strategies are most likely to be employed when the decision maker is in the domain of gains? And, in contrast, what strategies are the most likely to be utilized when the decision maker is in the domain of losses? To address these questions, I develop and extend prospect theory to account for the impact of gains vs. losses domains on decision strategy selections by decision makers under risk. A set of testable hypotheses are then derived. To render a robust test of these hypotheses, I employ a cross-national experimental research design, utilizing American subjects first and then replicating the same experiment with subjects in mainland China. In terms of research instrument, I utilize the computerized decision process tracer ?? the Decision Board Platform. Specifically, the ??moves?? of decision makers are recorded by the Decision Board and then used to identify choices and to infer specific decision strategies. Statistical analysis of the experimental results demonstrates support for the major hypotheses. A decision maker in the domain of gains is more likely to employ a holistic, alternative-based, compensatory, and maximizing decision strategy than is a decision maker in the domain of losses.