Who Should Political Parties Send to the Negotiating Table?

Every time a Superdupercommittee is put together to hash out a grand bargain analysis erupts over what each appointee means for the prospect of compromise. Politico sends a whole team to dissect social security votes from two decades ago in an effort to determine if a Congressman is there just to sabotage the negotiations.

Meanwhile, psychologists have their own theories about who is most likely to spur compromise. The latest research, which was led by Gerben Van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam, suggests that as long as there is public accountability, compromise is more likely when the negotiations involve “peripheral” representatives — group members who are atypical or barely fit into the group. The reasoning is that these members are more vigilant about serving the group well, and therefore they do a better job seeking information, reading opponents, and finding ways to reach win-win compromises.

Here, we examine how representative negotiators’ motivation to engage in such thorough information processing is influenced by their position in the group.  Whereas prototypical representatives feel secure about their membership, peripheral representatives have a less certain position. We propose that peripheral representatives are therefore more attentive and responsive to information that may be relevant to the negotiation than prototypical representatives, but only when they are accountable to their constituents. Data from 4 experiments showed that peripheral representatives reported higher information-processing motivation (Experiment 1), bought and recalled more information (Experiment 2), exhibited greater sensitivity to emotional expressions of the outgroup representative (Experiment 3), and attained more integrative (“win–win”) agreements (Experiment 4) than prototypical representatives, but only when they were accountable.

In other words, if you want a good outcome, send they guy who’s so much of an outsider he’s afraid to screw up.

When it specifically comes to political compromises there’s still the question of what constitutes a “win-win.” As policymaking become more of a zero sum game, it’s possible that holding firm and making no concessions is the only way to win. If that’s the case then peripheral representatives would still be better at gathering information, but they would be less likely to fail the group by compromising. Either way, if you hear of a two-man negotiation between Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, you should be marginally more optimistic.
Van Kleef, G., Steinel, W., & Homan, A. (2013). On being peripheral and paying attention: Prototypicality and information processing in intergroup conflict. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98 (1), 63-79 DOI: 10.1037/a0030988


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