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Humiliation and International Conflict Preferences

Politicians and scholars often link humiliation to decisions to initiate and escalate international military conflict, yet the microfoundations underlying this link are undertheorized and untested. Can emotions, like humiliation, actually affect international bargaining? If so, through what mechanisms does humiliation operate? Drawing on studies in neuroscience and experimental psychology, this article offers two new mechanisms through which humiliation may influence conflict preferences: by decreasing sensitivity to the cost of conflict and by increasing the salience of potential status loss. This change in preferences shrinks the bargaining range, increasing the probability of bargaining breakdown. I test this theory using both survey and lab experiments that exploit the carryover effects of humiliation on unrelated decisions to isolate its effects on conflict preferences. The results provide the first experimental evidence able to distinguish support for different mechanisms through which humiliation increases conflict preferences.