Northwestern Events Calendar


International Relations Workshop Presents Kelly Greenhill

When: Friday, April 12, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM CT

Where: Scott Hall, 212, 601 University Place, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: John Mocek   (847) 491-5364

Group: Department of Political Science

Category: Academic


“Fear and Present Danger: Extra-factual Sources of Threat Conception and Proliferation”

Kelly Greenhill

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science
Director, International Relations Program

When U.S. Senator Arthur Vandenberg famously told President Harry Truman that he’d have to “scare the hell out of the American people” to secure support for the coming Cold War, Vandenburg was tapping into a tried and true tradition of strategically cultivating fear to influence attitudes and change behavior. While this tactic has a long history of use, strikingly little has been written on precisely how, why, and when it actually works. In this talk, I offer just such an explanation. Drawing upon findings from my next book, Fear and Present Danger, I describe how and why cognitive and psychological biases can be triggered and strategically manipulated as means to political and military ends. I explain why state and non-state actors engaged in this particular kind of cognitive hacking so frequently eschew fact-based arguments in favor of “truthier” alternatives, such as rumors, conspiracy theories, propaganda, fiction and so-called fake news, sources I collectively refer to as “extra-factual information” (EFI). I identify the conditions under which policymakers and the public tend to find EFI-infused threat narratives persuasive, and, drawing upon a wide array of historical examples, show that while information content and delivery platforms have changed, the underlying mechanisms that make this tool such an effective instrument of political influence, and EFI, such a useful handmaiden to it, have not. I highlight the implications of historical cases for our contemporary, EFI-saturated political environment and what current trends may portend for the future.

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