Bizarre Beliefs and Rational Choices: A Behavioral Approach to Analytic Narratives


John W. Schiemann is assistant professor of political science, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ 07940.


Rational choice analytic narratives claim to take seriously the way real actors form their beliefs. I argue that a commonly applied formal technique—perfect Bayesian equilibrium—inadequately accounts for realistic beliefs, unnecessarily impoverishing analytic narratives. I propose an equilibrium concept drawn from cognitive psychology—support theory equilibrium—that provides an accurate account of beliefs within a formal analytic narrative approach. I ground both the critique and the alternative in a discussion of ethnic mobilization in Yugoslavia. The result is a behaviorally informed analytic narrative that offers a more accurate account of the role of real—including bizarre—beliefs in strategic interaction.