Decision Science

The area of Decision Sciences includes both cognitive function and psychology. Our interdisciplinary approach synthesizes physical functions with traditional rationality and belief to understand how individuals come to make decisions leading to political violence and other conflict.

While study of judgment and decision-making has greatly advanced, progress has been uneven. Much more is known about decision-making facets of economic behavior than about morally motivated behavior, including political behavior. Current risk management approaches to resolving resource conflicts or countering terrorism often assume that adversaries model the world on the basis of rational choices that are commensurable across cultures. In particular, models of individual and group based choices have tended to assume that theories of bounded rationality can explain choices to commit oneself or one’s group to acts of political violence and terrorism. Such assumptions are prevalent in risk modeling and assessment by foreign aid and international development projects run by institutions such as the World Bank and many NGOs, and by U.S. diplomatic, military and intelligence services as well.

Such findings are often taken to support the idea that terrorist action – including self-destruction – derives from rational decisions to optimize strategies for attaining sociopolitical goals; the religious “bargain” of mostly young men dying for a promising afterlife; or ultimate sacrifice as maximizing the goal of improving lives of family or compatriots, which offsets the “opportunity cost” of an educated life lost prematurely; “trading life” for a social identity that is affirmed in death but devalued by continued living. Another possibility, however, is that rather than obey a utilitarian “logic of rational consequence” these actors more closely follow a “logic of moral appropriateness.”

Decision science is part of a larger picture that ARTIS hopes to illuminate; too often decision making by groups are assumed to be “textbook cases”, not taking into account firsthand experience or primary sources. True values and motivations become obscured by secondary motives. Emotions and moral values are often unaccounted for. ARTIS hopes to bring a better understanding of why decisions are made by providing a greater body of empirical data to draw from.