Elizabeth A. Stanley. “War Duration and the Micro Dynamics of Decision Making under Stress.” Polity, Vol. 50, no. 1 (2018): 178-200. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/696359
Previous empirical research has demonstrated that war has negative duration dependence: the longer a war has already lasted, the harder it is to end. Many arguments have been advanced to explain this, including bargaining or commitment problems, domestic politics, entrapment dynamics, sunk costs, and cognitive and emotional biases. Drawing on recent empirical and experimental research in neuroscience, psychology, and stress physiology, this article will examine the micro-dynamics of human decision-making in high-stress situations (such as prosecuting and negotiating to end a war) in order to connect these many approaches. In high stress environments, cognitive functioning usually depletes over time, decreasing top-down regulation of emotions and stress arousal, and thereby increasing subcortical influence on decision making. Depleted cognitive functioning also decreases tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity, two states endemic to the war termination process, which further exacerbates subcortical influence on decisions. As a result, actors’ ability to absorb and accurately assess information and to make effective decisions may be undermined. This article also connects these micro-dynamics of decision making under stress to some of the arguments previously advanced to explain war’s negative duration dependence.