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Öllinger, Michael; Meissner, Karin; Müller, Albrecht von; Seidel, Carlos Collado (2017): Expectation Violation in Political Decision Making: A Psychological Case Study. In: Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 8, 1761


Since the early Gestaltists there has been a strong interest in the question of how problem solvers get stuck in a mental impasse. A key idea is that the repeated activation of a successful strategy from the past results in a mental set ('Einstellung') which determines and constrains the option space to solve a problem. We propose that this phenomenon, which mostly was tested by fairly restricted experiments in the lab, could also be applied to more complex problem constellations and naturalistic decision making. We aim at scrutinizing and reconstructing how a mental set determines the misinterpretation of facts in the field of political decision making and leads in consequence to wrong expectations and an ill-defined problem representation. We will exemplify this psychological mechanism considering a historical example, namely the unexpected stabilization of the Franco regime at the end of World War II and its survival thereafter. A specific focus will be drawn to the significant observation that erroneous expectations were taken as the basis for decisions. This is congruent with the notion that in case of discrepancy between preconceived notions and new information, the former prevails over the new findings. Based on these findings, we suggest a theoretical model for expectation violation in political decision making and develop novel approaches for cognitive empirical research on the mechanisms of expectation violation and its maintenance in political decision making processes.