The Poliheuristic Research Program: An Assessment and Suggestions for Further Progress



This paper uses the Lakatosian criteria to assess the body of research rooted in the Poliheuristic Theory of Decision Making. Poliheuristic theory posits a two-stage, noncompensatory decision-making process. In the first stage, decision makers eliminate alternatives that fail to satisfy criteria on a predetermined, noncompensatory dimension. In the second stage, a final choice is selected using rational methods. I argue that the Poliheuristic research program appears to be progressive in the Lakatosian sense. Taken together, Poliheuristic research exploits a variety of methodologies and research agendas to reveal the theory’s validity with respect to decision making processes as well as decision outcomes. I argue that Poliheuristic theory is progressive relative to such prominent decision making theories such as expected utility and cybernetic theory. For progress to continue, however, I argue that the research program should distinguish itself from other approaches and theoretical perspectives; including the political survival perspective of Bueno de Mesquita and colleagues, the audience costs perspective of Fearon and Schultz, as well as operational code analysis of Walker, Schafer, and colleagues. I contend that some of these theories offer predictions that are very different from expectations offered by Poliheuristic Theory. I conclude that Poliheuristic theory has the potential to serve as a conduit between rational and cognitive approaches to foreign policy decision making and international relations research, facilitating comparison among theories across this divide, and contributing to progress in the study of international politics.