Miscellaneous (한 + EN)

The mirror image in Soviet‐American relations

2019-10-27 15:27
"It should be clear that I am in no sense here suggesting that Western reporters and embassy officials deliberately misrepresent what they know to be the facts. Rather I am but calling attention to the operation, in a specific and critical context, of a phenomenon well known to psychologists—the tendency to assimilate new perceptions to old, and unconsciously to distort what one sees in such a way as to minimize a clash with previous expectations. In recent years, a number of leading social psychologists, notably Heider (1958), Festinger (1957), and Osgood (1960), have emphasized that this “strain toward consistency” is especially powerful in the sphere of social relations—that is, in our perceptions of the motives, attitudes, and actions of other persons or groups. Specifically, we strive to keep our views of other human beings compatible with each other. In the face of complex social reality, such consistency is typically accomplished by obliterating distinctions and organizing the world in terms of artifially simplified frames of reference. One of the simplest of these, and hence one of the most inviting, is the dichotomy of good and bad. Hence we often perceive others, be they individuals, groups, or even whole societies, as simply “good” or ”bad.” Once this fateful decision is made, the rest is easy, for the “good” person or group can have only desirable social characteristics and the “bad” can have only reprehensible traits. And once such evaluative stability of social perception is established, it is extremely difficult to alter. Contradictory stimuli arouse only anxiety and resistance. When confronted with a desirable characteristic of something already known to be “bad,” the observer will either just not “see” it, or will reorganize his perception of it so that it can be perceived as “bad.” Finally, this tendency to regress to simple categories of perception is especially strong under conditions of emotional stress and external threat. Witness our readiness in times of war to exalt the virtues of our own side and to see the enemy as thoroughly evil.

... And if so, what then? Do not distortions have adaptive functions? Especially in war is it not psychologically necessary to see the enemy as thoroughly evil and to enhance one’s self image? And are we not engaged in a war, albeit a cold war, with the Soviet Union?

But is not our hope to bring an end to the cold war and, above all, to avoid the holocaust of a hot one? And herein lies the terrible danger of the distorted mirror image, for it is characteristic of such images that they are self-confirming; that is, each party, often against its own wishes, is increasingly driven to behave in a manner which fulfills the expectations of the other. As revealed in social psychological studies, the mechanism is a simple one: if A expects B to be friendly and acts accordingly, B responds with friendly advances; these in turn evoke additional positive actions from A, and thus a benign circle is set in motion. Conversely, where A’s anticipations of B are unfavorable, it is the vicious circle which develops at an accelerating pace. And as tensions rise, perceptions become more primitive and still further removed from reality. Seen from this perspective, the primary danger of the Soviet-American mirror image is that it impels each nation to act in a manner which confirms and enhances the fear of the other to the point that even deliberate efforts to reverse the process are reinterpreted as evidences of confirmation."

— Bronfenbrenner, U. (1961). The mirror image in Soviet‐American relations: A social psychologist's report. Journal of Social Issues, 17(3), 45-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1961.tb01682.x