Strategic Foresight

Reports and papers

Perceptions of security

04 Dec 2019 - 10:04
Source: Matthew Henry / Unsplash
How our brains can fool us

This report is part of our upcoming Strategic Monitor 2019 - 2020 which monitors global trends and assesses risks and opportunities for Dutch national security.

“Security is both a feeling and a reality. And they’re not the same”, is the opening statement of Bruce Schneier’s paper on the psychology of security. Rightly so, as people’s perceptions of security often differ from the objective reality of security. For example, the world is becoming an increasingly unsafe place. At least, that is the message we get when listening to speeches of world leaders, or reading their foreign and defence policy strategies. For instance, the Dutch Integrated International Security Strategy of 2018-2022, mentions that the world has become more insecure in relation to certain aspects, like shifts in the balance of geopolitical power, increasing instability and insecurity around Europe and the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom, and a rise in hybrid conflicts and tensions. However, national and international research has demonstrated that the world actually has become a more safer place if we look at the long term trend. 

“Security is both a feeling and a reality. And they’re not the same”

Hence, the question arises how the mismatch between these realities and perceptions of security can be explained. This paper will try to contribute to answering this question. To a certain extent these differences can be explained on the basis of geography, culture and history, but another important aspect in explaining these diverse security perceptions can be found in the psychology literature. More specifically, cognitive biases that are held by elites in those states, i.e. the people who are outlining and implementing policy, can help to clarify why certain policies come about and why certain events are perceived to be a threat to national security. Hence, this paper aims to shed a light on the influence of cognitive systems and the corresponding heuristics and biases on security perceptions. 

Read the full report.

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