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NATIONAL LEADERS IN INTERDEPENDENT' SITUATIONS Cognitive and Rhetorical Styles of American and Soviet Politicians PHILIP E. TETLO CK I presented the results of recent research that applies the integrative complexity coding system to the policy statements of American and Soviet political leaders Fetlock, 1985, 1988; Tetlock and Boettger, 1989~. This coding system which has been used to analyze a wide range of exper- imental and archival sources of data focuses on the cognitive structure (not content) of people's expressed beliefs and preferences. Rhetoric with low integrative complexity tends to place events or options into rigid, evaluatively polarized categories (for example, the policies I prefer lead only to good consequences; the policies I reject lead only to bad ones); rhetoric with high integrative complexity tends to be dynamic, dialectical, and multidimensional (for example, the speaker recognizes that policymak- ing requires trade-offs among conflicting values, with the relative weight assigned to each value varying as a function of a changing world). The data reveal a number of replicable and robust relationships be- tween the integrative complexity of political rhetoric and actual political behavior. In the American case we have found, for example, that: 1. Political leaders make less integratively complex statements in the quarter-year periods immediately preceding presidential elections; 2. Some presidential administrations have tended to be more in- tegratively complex in their policy statements on the Soviet Union than others, with the most complex periods being those of the Richard Nixon- Henry Kissinger detente period (1972-1974) and the John F. Kennedy administration in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis (1963~; 3. Political rhetoric tends to become more complex in those quarter- year periods in which the United States and Soviet Union reach major agreements on arms control or other issues; 53
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54 SOVIET AMERICAN DIALOGUE IN THE SOCL4L SCIENCES 4. Political rhetoric tends to become less complex in those quarter- year periods in which the United States launches major military-political interventions in other countries; 5. Conservatives in the U.S. Senate tend to make less integra- tively complex statements than liberals and moderates (especially when the Democrats control Congress). In the Soviet case, we have found that: 1. The integrative complexity of Soviet rhetoric tends to rise in those quarter-year periods that immediately precede and coincide with major American-Soviet agreements (most recently the INF agreement of 1987~; 2. Soviet rhetoric becomes less complex In those quarter-year pe- riods that immediately precede and coincide with Soviet military-political interventions in other countries; 3. The integrative complexity of Soviet policy statements has risen sharply since Mikhail Gorbachev became General Party Secretary—a trend that has provoked divergent interpretations among American political an- alysts; 4. Communist park leaders classified by expert Western observers as reformers (pro-Gorbachev) have more integratively complex styles of political speaking than do traditionalists; 5. The differences between reformers and traditionalists were observ- able in the Konstantin Chernenko period but were much more nrono~nc*~(1 once Gorbachev became General Party Secretary. - ~ rip These data highlight some intriguing parallels between Soviet and American policy rhetoric. Each side tends to make less integratively com- plex statements in confrontational times and more integratively complex statements in periods of relatively good relations. There is also a tendency for political conservatives or traditionalists within each country to make less integratively complex statements than liberals or reformers. Nonetheless, there are interpretive problems. It is invariably possible to construct both perceptual-cognitive and political impression-management explanations for each of the major findings reported here. From a cognitive perspective, one can argue that our measures of integrative complexity re- flect, albeit imperfectly, how key decision makers within the two countries actually perceive and interpret events. In this view, the complexity of deci- sion makers' cognitive maps of the world plays a key causal role in shaping their estimates of the feasibility and desirability of particular polio y options. Integratively simple decision makers are less likely to see or to be willing to make the kinds of complex and subtle trade-offs that domestic political and international situations may require. These trade-offs may take diverse forms: for example, the tension between national sovereignty and the need for intimate international collaboration to control nuclear weapons and
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NATIONAL LEADERS IN INTERDEPENDENT SITUATIONS 55 to address critical environmental issues or the familiar tension in national policy planning among the objectives of defense spending,' productive long- term investment, and the demands of consumption. Although there is no guarantee that integratively complex information processors will cope effectively with these problems (they may perceive trade-offs where none exists, or they may attach too much weight to one value and too little to another), one can make a strong case that complex information processors are likely to be more attentive to the variety of factors that influence trade- off relationships among values 'and to be more receptive to the possibility that old policy formulas are no longer viable. By contrast, from the perspective of political impression management, the integrative complexity of policy rhetoric reflects not how political leaders think, but rather the rhetorical strategies they find useful to justify the policies they have already decided to pursue. 'Some policies call for more integratively complex justifications than others. Confrontational policies can be most conveniently justified by portraying the other side in one- dimensional, negative terms; coordinative policies require a more complex rhetorical strategy, one that acknowledges both commonalities and conflicts of interest between nations. Within the domestic political arena, moderate reformist policies require more complex justification than traditionalist or conservative policies. To argue that current social arrangements are fundamentally sound is by definition less integratively complex than to argue that current social arrangements are in some ways sound and in some ways hawed. The key question is whether the ideological differences observed reflect nothing more than differences in public rhetorical strategies or whether they also reflect, in part, differences in how advocates of the different viewpoints actually think. I conclude by arguing that the scales of theoretical plausibility tip against an extreme version of the political impression-management hy- pothesis, which attributes all of the observed differences to "mere public posturing." Here, previous research on the integrative complexity construct becomes critical. The experimental research literature indicates, quite clearly, that integratively simple tempers are more likely to nenave In con- frontational ways in mixed-motive laboratory games and are less likely to arrive at mutually beneficial compromise solutions in such games. There is also a fairly extensive body of research on personality correlates of political preferences which indicates that the cognitive-stylistic correlates of ideology that have been observed through content analysis of leaders' statements can also be observed among the general public and political activists using more traditional measures of individual differences in cognitive and motivational functioning (McClosky, 1967; Tetlock, 1981~. These convergences between the content analytic data reported here and previous research on political reasoning suggest (although they do not prove) that variations in integrative
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56 SOVIET-AMERICAN DIALOGUE IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES complexity of thought at the highest levels of government have played a role in shaping the character and tone of the superpower relationship over the last 43 years. REFERENCES McClosly, PI. 1967 Personality and attitude correlates of foreign policy orientation. In Domestic Sources of Foreign Policy, J.M. Rosenau, ed. New York: Free Press. Tetlock, P.E. 1981 Personality and isolationism: (content analysis of senatorial speeches. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 41:737-743. 1985 Integrative complexity of Amencan and Soviet foreign policy rhetoric A time-genes analysis. Joumal of Personality and Social Psychology 49:1565-1585. 1988 Monitoring the integrative complexity of American and Soviet policy state- ments: What can be learned? Joumal of Social Issues 442:101-131. Tetlock, P.E., and R. Boettger 1989 Cognitive style and political ideology in the Soviet Union. Political Psychol- o,gy.
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