When the Past Predicts the Future: The effect of Historical Analogies on Conflict-related judgments
ABSTRACT: When the Crimean crisis started to draw international focus on March 2014, former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that Putin’s actions were similar to “what Hitler did back in the 30’s”. Besides being among the first to effectively reach the Godwin Point, H. Clinton was making use in this case of a rhetorical device common both in public and political discourses: a historical analogy; i.e., a comparison between a present and a past situation. It has been demonstrated that such historical analogies can shape individuals’ perceptions and judgments regarding a current situation (e.g., Gilovich, 1981). More importantly, it allows individuals to make predictions about the future outcome following a course of action in a given situation (Khong, 1992). However, the cognitive processes underlying this phenomenon have yet to be specified. Drawing on cognitive sciences frameworks on analogy (e.g., Gentner, 1983), we argue that the predictive power of historical analogies – which constitute their core feature – involves a process of causal reasoning. The latter allows to infer that if two events (past and present) share a common causal antecedent, then they are likely to share the same outcome (cf. Read, 1984). A series of studies testing this assumption has been conducted both in Belgium and Germany. Preliminary results seem consistent with the hypotheses but point to the importance of (perceived) knowledge as moderator. We will conclude this talk by outlining the methodology of an upcoming study on which we wish to receive feedbacks and comments from the audience.