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The standard approach in positive political theory posits that action choices are the consequences of preferences. Social psychology—in particular, cognitive dissonance theory—suggests the opposite: preferences may themselves be affected by action choices. We present a framework that applies this idea to three models of political choice: (1) one in which partisanship emerges naturally in a two-party system despite policy being multidimensional, (2) one in which interactions with people who express different views can lead to empathetic changes in political positions, and (3) one in which ethnic or racial hostility increases after acts of violence. These examples demonstrate how incorporating the insights of social psychology can expand the scope of formalization in political science.


Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. "Explaining Preferences from Behavior: A Cognitive Dissonance Approach." The Journal of Politics 80.2 (April 2018).