No need to argue: Why does concurrence continue within foreign policy groups despite receiving negative feedback?

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Margaret G. Hermann


Concurrence, Foreign policy groups, Negative feedback, Commitment

Subject Categories

International Relations | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This study examines why groups that initially rallied around a policy--in what Janis (1972) describes as groupthink--continue to unanimously support the original course of action despite receiving negative feedback further into the case. This behavior is puzzling as one would rationally assume that evidence that a chosen strategy is not working would lead to renewed debate on whether to continue the same approach or to alter the course of action. This study proposes that foreign policy groups continue this behavior for two different and mutually exclusive reasons, depending on whether they are initially confronted with a perceived threat or an opportunity. Escalation of commitment (side-bet pressures, social pressures, and self-justification) is responsible for the continuation of concurrence in cases of perceived threat, while the high initial expectancies and corresponding policies cause lack of discussion in cases of perceived opportunity.

This study uses a case study approach to examine four sequential foreign policy cases, two examples of opportunity and two of threat. The cases of perceived opportunity are the crossing of the 38 th parallel in Korea and the decision to go to war in Iraq. The cases of perceived threat are the British appeasement of Hitler and the escalation of the war in Vietnam. Each case is divided into occasions for decision--or moments in which the policy makers are forced to or choose to address the problem. Then a structured focused comparison is used, in which the same set of questions are asked with a limited number of possible responses at each occasion for decision.

This study finds that in all four cases the group remained concurrent, until the policy makers were faced with a 'shock', which significantly changed the nature of the crisis (such as the Chinese offensive in the Korean war), or consistent negative feedback. The cases also provided evidence that high initial expectancies caused groups to continue to be concurrent following a perceived opportunity, and that escalation of commitment variables were responsible for the group's concurrence and commitment to the original course following a perceived threat. This study found that these two categories were mutually exclusive.


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