Psychological Diplomacy (PsyDip) is diplomacy that makes use of psychological tools, including psychological theories, research, and interventions. It is the diplomatic counterpart to Psychological Warfare (PsyWar). Whereas PsyWar uses psychology to reach military objectives, PsyDip uses psychology to reach diplomatic objectives. This blog both invents the term Psychological Diplomacy and actively explores the possibility that psychology can improve international relations.
*Disclaimer: This is an individual, non-governmental blog.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Why Diplomats Envy Babies:
The Psychology of Language Learning
Ever wonder why babies and young children can learn languages so easily, yet as adults we struggle? This basic question strikes a PsyDip cord, because of the fact that language is a large part of what separates us transnationally as "foreign" to one another. A review of the world's nations arguably demonstrates the larger the language gap between two nations, the greater the chances of mistrust and cross-cultural miscalculations. Certainly this conclusion is confounded by geography, as different peoples will be more likely to share language roots if they share geography, but it is principally through language that we transmit culture. So let's take a quick look at what psychologists know about language and the baby brain.
Within 18 months babies have a solid vocabulary of around 50 words. By their sixth birthday, that vocabulary has expanded to over 6,000! That means during early childhood we learn at least three words a day. This keeps us on pace to learn the 50,000 words required (for English speakers) for normal conversation. So how do we do it and why do we suddenly get so bad at it as we leave childhood?
It turns out language development is hard-wired into the brain, as an enduring legacy of millennia of evolution. That hard-wiring provides large neuronal trees which are shaped linguistically by a process of "pruning". All babies are born to babble the full range of human sounds possible, across all languages (over 6,800!). All human brains have about the same number of neurons -- about 100 million, but babies brains are wired differently. Babies' neurons are each individually connected to as many as 15,000 other neurons. In contrast, adult neurons have about a third fewer links. With so many links at birth between neurons, babies are equipped with a broad capacity to receive linguistic imprinting, by exposure to local sounds. Sounds not heard locally will not be babbled for long and therefore neuron links to support those unheard sounds will be pruned and absorbed by the brain, as the baby begins to focus on the native language.
In addition to having the extra wiring "built-in" from birth, babies have a processing speed for neuronal firing that far exceeds that of adults. When they hear different sounds in succession as in the case of a language, they are able to register the differences between those sounds in a relatively fast process, because the neurons that fire electrical impulses to record learning are able to re-load quickly and move on to the next audio distinction. Adult neurons cannot fire and reload as quickly, so the sounds of new languages quickly get backed up in our attention span and we cannot register them as distinct sounds beyond a certain point. The "circuit board" in a baby’s brain can handle many more bits of linguistic information in a short span of time - enough to retain key distinctions in pronunciation, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.
So why do we lose this great power as we age? In short, when it comes to language, nature is only as efficient as it needs to be. Those neurons associated with language begin to crystallize around the preferred local language. A brain that retains a large and redundant system of additional neurons for alternative but unused language sounds is not an efficient one. It takes many extra calories to run the quadrillion cellular links of the large carbon-based neural network a baby has for picking up languages it encounters. Those neurons are "use or lose", meaning once the organism is no longer exposed to certain sounds beyond a certain point (basically 7 years of age) it loses its biological capacity to easily register those sounds. The neuron links there at birth to support such receptivity have been consumed by other demands or absorbed into the system for energy needs. This seems absurd today in calorie-saturated developed countries, but the brain evolved during times of nutritional challenge, long before modern agriculture and processed food.
What does this all mean for international understanding? Firstly, it means we ought to be exposing our children to other languages at an early age. The sooner the better. Researchers say even infants less than 18 months of age show receptivity to language that cannot necessarily be retained over time. Certainly, children should be exposed to other languages prior to age seven if the goal is to speak "native". After age seven our ability to learn other languages shuts markedly. It is true that we can and do refine our language skills within our primary and well-learned languages well into old age. However, we never again have access to a system of 1 quadrillion synapses to absorb the full gamut of language sounds producible by the human voice box and mouth. Lastly, current research indicates that because language evolved in social settings for the purposes of communication, we learn it best in actual, live social situations - not from audio and video recordings. The brains of babies and young children are most likely hard-wired to respond best to real human eye contact and pointing. That is the best way to learn language. Now if we could just agree on the "right" language!
Let's end with a list of the world's most spoken languages (native, by population):
- Mandarin (885 Million)
- Spanish (332 Million)
- English (322 Million)
- Bengali (189 Million)
- Hindi (182 Million)
- Portuguese (170 Million)
- Russian (170 Million)
- Japanese (125 Million)
- German (98 Million)
- Wu (77 Million)
Referenced above and provided for further reading:
"Your Brain: A User's Guide", Language and the Baby Brain, by Jeffrey Kluger
"The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language", by Steven Pinker
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Psychology can ask a lot of bold questions of diplomacy, opening up new ideas and possibilities for consideration. There are at least 20 different angles to pose these questions from, and probably many more. Let's start with the first five, which represent the broad historical paradigms of psychology so far. Once we've covered those, we can get into the many sub-fields of psychology. If you look at the history of psychology it has been most influenced by these five paradigms: 1) psychoanalysis, 2) behaviorism, 3) humanism, 4) cognitivism, and 5) evolution. Here we'll go into each school of thought very briefly. Then we will extend its questions into the context of diplomacy. And finally we will mention some possible PsyDip application areas for the paradigm.
Psychoanalysis was founded by Sigmund Freud and further developed by Carl Jung, Karen Horney and others. Its basic focus was on resolving unconscious conflicts rooted in early childhood. At the diplomacy-level, we might therefore ask: do some nations, leaders, and citizens (including our own) have unconscious, repressed psychological conflicts and taboos rooted in their early histories? Can these conflicts be brought into awareness through introspection and thereby reconciled by way of a national or individual catharsis? Would such potential resolution result in a more balanced, less distressed foreign policy? Can we better understand and work with other nations and their leaders and citizenry by looking into our/their historical psychodramas? Possible PsyDip application areas: human rights, history of foreign relations, holocaust issues, cultural exchanges, elections, library programs, peace process, transparency, censorship, political participation, public reconciliation, communication, historical accuracy and redress, etc.
Behaviorism was founded by John Watson and embraced by Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner, among others. Its focus was on measuring objective behaviors with methodological rigor. As such it was a reaction to the subjectivity of psychoanalysis. At the diplomacy level, the Behaviorist might ask: Do some nations, leaders, and citizens (including our own) have patterns of behavior which are the result of conditioning or learning in a context of stimulus and response? Can their measureable behavior be changed by modifying antecedents and consequences to it? Can the negative or undesirable habits of these nations and individuals be changed or reshaped by new schedules of reinforcement that associate new positive and desirable habits with rewards and old negative and undesirable habits with punishment or at least lack of reward? Can we better understand and work with other nations and their leaders and citizenry by looking into what they have been rewarded for doing and what they have been punished for doing? Possible PsyDip application areas: embargos, investments, microcredit loans, rewards for justice, smart power, tariffs, sanctions, bribery, claims, treaties, agreements, pay, warnings, refugees, World Trade Organization, allowances, drug trafficking, donations, intellectual property, hardship pay, castigation, praise, anti-terrorism, etc.
Humanism was founded by psychologists like Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Fritz Perls. It was a reaction to both Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism. It attempted to look at the whole person, arguing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Maslow created a hierarchy of needs, Rogers created client-centered therapy, and Perls spoke of the "gestalt" of a person (his/her experiential present amidst the web of his/her relationships). Humanistic psychologists thought Psychoanalysis was too focused on neurosis and Behaviorism was too focused on lab rats. A psychologist from this school might ask at the diplomacy level: Do some nations, leaders, and citizens (including our own) have unique and subjective meanings for themselves that can be invoked, elicited, and appealed to? By looking at a nation, an individual leader, or citizen as a whole and not just a series of parts or dysfunctions, can we then focus in on their positive growth and meaningful identity development? Can nations and their people be attracted to a perspective of free will that will enable them to build up from core needs to self-actualization of their highest potential? Can we better understand and work with other nations and their leaders and citizenry by helping them to reach their full psychological and perhaps even spiritual potential? Possible PsyDip application areas: Art in Embassies Program, democracy, arbitration, development finance, relief, rule of law, water for the poor, confidence and security building measures, religious freedom, population stability, sustainable development, culture, recreation, human potential development, etc.
Cognitivism was pioneered by thinkers like Ulric Neisser, Noam Chomsky, and George Miller. It built upon the experimental foundations of Wilhelm Wundt and Jean Piaget. The focus was on information processing. Cognitive psychologists conceive of people as information processing systems whose mental operations can be described in computational and linguistic terms. At the diplomatic level, they might ask: Do some nations, leaders, and citizens (including our own) think and speak in predictable ways that can be changed for the better by cognitive restructuring or reorganization? Can their negative or undesirable thought or speech patterns be changed by reframing, revising, or convincing them to think and use language differently - perhaps to even remember differently? Can we change the way nations and their people think and believe by endeavoring to change the way they use linguistic or mental representations of things or by the way they process information? Can we better understand and work with other nations and their leaders and citizenry by looking into how they think and by trying to actively change their thinking? Possible PsyDip application areas: language services, Freedom of Information Act, dissent channel, information technology, telecommunications, publications, communications policy, policy planning, translations, State Magazine, propaganda, interviews, town halls, mission statements, information policies, debate, science, education, editorials, speeches, briefings, campaigns, media coverage, etc.
Evolutionary psychology was pioneered by Charles Darwin in his book, Descent of Man. It has been further developed by David Buss and Steven Pinker, among others from varied disciplines. The core idea of evolutionary psychology is that much of human behavior is generated by psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments. Consistent with the process of natural selection, the idea is that humans have inherited certain adaptive, hard-wired capacities such as that of language, emotional intelligence, a preference for healthy mates, fears of spiders and snakes, etc. In short, we have what we have because of our evolutionary context and survival needs for given ecologies. At the diplomacy level, an evolutionary psychologist might ask: Are some nations/leaders/peoples (including our own) more evolved than others for certain niches/domains/times? Are some nations/leaders/peoples evolved in different and unique ways relative to others? What evolutionary baggage do we all carry? Are some nations/leaders/people more homogenous or more heterogeneous than others and does this affect their or our capacity or capabilities for interaction? Should we tailor our approach to a given nation/people by taking into consideration their literal or figurative DNA, sexual/reproductive/matching behavior, or traits we see them select among themselves? Can we find a use for a given literal or figurative genetic or memetic/social mutation we observe? Can we engage in literal or figurative selective matching of characteristics we deem desirable by connecting previously disparate players in the population? Can we better understand and work with other nations and their leaders and citizenry by looking into how evolved they are, literally or figuratively, in either broad terms or terms specific to a particular domain/task? And most importantly, how can we analyze our human behavior in animal terms but not succumb to thinking that is all we are and can possibly be? In short, how can we both acknowledge our capacity for brute nature and at the same time rise above it? Possible PsyDip application areas: AIDS, diversity visa, relationship-based visas, resettlement, science, Tuberculosis, conflict, war, war crimes, domestic violence, women's rights, economic and political competition, nationalism, ethnic cleansing, gene mapping/therapy, physical and social viruses, population dynamics, overpopulation, population control, information flow, physical and psychological diversity awareness/appreciation, peace accords, law enforcement, economics, aggression, law, medical ethics, biotechnology, human genome project, etc.
As you can see, psychology has a lot of bold questions. What you do not see here is the incredible amount of detailed research that has gone into and come out of each of these traditions, to one degree of experimental rigor or another. Most professional psychologists publish in esoteric journals reviewed only by peers in the field and read only by professionals and students in the field. This posting is an initial attempt to bring together what they have to offer diplomacy so that further connections can be explored for their potential. Not all psychology matters will apply to diplomacy of course, but a great many will, as most diplomacy is carried out by individuals - individuals with individual minds - the stuff of psychology. Often connections emerge over time as their considerations become relevant in contexts which we later take for granted. As Sigmund Freud said, "the voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing."
Friday, September 11, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
One interesting thing about these papers is that one was written before 911 and the other after it. Yet both make the case that terrorists are made, not born. Often in psychology we struggle with the relative influences of "nature versus nurture" and conclude that an interaction between the two causes most behaviors. Another interesting thing about these papers is that when characterizing terrorists who act in terrorist groups (as opposed to the lone "lunatics"), they both make the case that terrorists are not by and large mentally unstable or certifiably mentally ill. A third interesting thing is that terrorists do not appear to have a single "terrorist personality" or any one predictable personality type. However, there are certain people who are drawn to terrorist groups for reasons they accept as justifying and mandating certain behaviors, as part of a set of beliefs regarded as absolute and meaningful. Of course terrorists make their own individual choices and therefore a discussion about learned behaviors in no way justifies or excuses such behaviors, rather it gives us a starting place for considering a way forward.
Taken as a whole, these three points should actually give us reason to be hopeful. Why? Because when a behavior is learned and not innate, it is more easily extinguished. As a general rule in psychology, the more hard-wired in the DNA a behavior is, the harder it is to control. The more learned a behavior is, the easier it is to control, or to unlearn. We "simply" have to find the root causes, the antecedents, and the consequences and work hard to change those.
What social and geopolitical conditions provide root causes and therefore fertile milieus for terrorist groups to emerge and gain traction? What are the common psychological antecedents and consequences in the behavioral trajectories of those who join terrorist groups? What interventions are more likely to succeed in getting would-be terrorists to take another path in life and avert the dreadful step of carrying out a terrorist act? Can we identify common denominators among individuals who were once flirting with terrorism but later changed course and renounced terrorism, so as to cultivate what it is that happened right in their cases? There are many other questions, to be sure.
Now on to the research...
Psychology of Terrorism
(Department of Mental Health Law & Policy, University of South Florida, 2004)
The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism:
Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?
(Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1999)
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
"Diplomacy: the ability to tell someone to go to hell so that he'll look forward to making the trip".
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Bold Diplomacy Questions from 20 different areas of psychology:
Abnormal, Behavioral, Biological, Clinical/Counseling, Cognitive, Comparative, Critical, Developmental, Educational/School, Evolutionary, Forensic/Legal, Global, Health, Humanism, Industrial-Organizational, Personality, Positive, Psychoanalytical, Quantitative, and Social.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Just finished "PK 245: Basic Leadership Skills" today and I give it two thumbs up! For those not acquainted with PK 245, it’s the U.S. State Department’s junior to mid-level leadership course, taught at the U.S. Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia (at NFATC). The reason I bring it up here on PsyDip is because it was very heavy on psychology content. Ever since Colin Powell, State is getting better and better at providing its people with good training. PK 245 was chock full of psychology models and activities to train State’s current and future leaders. These models and activities drew widely from personality, motivation, cross-cultural psych, industrial-organizational psych, etc. and included: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Situational Leadership Model, Tuckman’s Group Development, the Johari Window, Loden’s Diversity Wheel, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation, etc.
Another key component from psychology was the 360 Degree review process employed using State Department run software. This was basically a process of evaluation by one’s bosses, peers, and subordinates, using a variety of skills reflective of leadership and management tasks. The 360 solicits evaluative data from the participants’ real workplace, current or past, and generates output on a range of quantitative scales. It also includes qualitative data in a comments section of pros/cons.
Probably the best part of the training was the fact that various models from psychology were brought to life in the form of hands-on activities and discussions drawing from participants’ real work experiences out in the field. The overall emphasis of the course was on leading and managing by way of self-awareness and behavioral flexibility, in order to adapt to a wide range of organizational settings. Kudos to the State Department for taking lessons from the Ivory Tower and putting them into a practical training format for diplomats headed out to new and continuing assignments.
Here are some of the models PK 245 utilized. Psychologists won’t necessarily view these as the best or most current models in the field, but they will surely recognize them as fine products from the vast repository of psychological wisdom from the 20th Century…
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:
The Situational Leadership Model:
Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development:
Johari Window self-awareness model:
Loden’s Diversity Wheel:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation:http://www.businessballs.com/herzberg.htm