Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Peter Liberman

Committee Members

Zachary Shirkey

Roseanne McManus

David Lindsey

Michael Lee

Subject Categories

International Relations | Political Science


Past Actions, Reputation, Signaling, Resolve, Intentions, Threat Perceptions


Whether and how a state’s past military (in)actions affect perceptions of its resolve and intentions has been disputed. This dissertation argues that non-experts and experts in governments use enemy past actions differently to infer enemy resolve and intentions. Experts are those who have rich knowledge about enemies (e.g., country specialists and intelligence analysts), whereas non-experts are those who do not (e.g., top policymakers). The theory argues that non-experts are influenced by what psychologists call the “negativity bias,” which compels them to pay more attention to negative information than positive information concerning enemies. On the other hand, building on experimental findings that professional skills mitigate biases, the theory argues experts’ professional knowledge about enemies mitigates the negativity bias. As a result, faced with the same set of information concerning enemies, including their past actions, these two groups reach different conclusions about their resolve and intentions. Utilizing primary sources extensively, this dissertation shows the theory’s plausibility by examining how US officials assessed their enemies’ resolve and intentions in three cases from the Cold War.