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Thawing Rivalries and Fading Friendships: An Experimental Approach to Rapprochement and Alienation


Political Psychology

Published online on


Although international relations (IR) theorists generally assume that actors update their beliefs about the intentions of adversaries and allies based on structure, costly signaling, and past actions, little is known about how the process of rapprochement between adversaries differs from the process of alienation between allies, particularly with respect to the nature and degree of costly signaling. Furthermore, until recently the role of the individual in these processes has only been engaged by a small number of scholars, and fewer still have integrated this perspective with conventional approaches to rapprochement and alienation. Drawing from findings in social psychology, We present results from an original survey experiment showing that (1) political belief systems are a powerful determinant of how individuals perceive the intentions of other states, more so than an observed state's signaling behavior; (2) there are diminishing returns in increasing the cost of a signal; and (3) hostile signals are more effective in signaling intent than reassuring signals.