FYO 2018

Foreign Policy and Neuroscience: First Year Odyssey Seminar

Fall 2018

Dr. Jeffrey D. Berejikian

Department of International Affairs

University of Georgia

Welcome to the University of Georgia!

First Year Odyssey Seminars (FYOS) are a bit different than traditional classes. In addition to learning about a subject (more on that below), FYOS classes are designed to accomplish several goals. Each of these is intended to assist you in the transition to life as a student at UGA, and to give you a better understanding of the mission and purpose of the university. Broadly, the goals are:

  • Introduce students to the importance of learning and academics so that they can engage productively with faculty and fellow students at the University of Georgia
  • To provide first-year students an opportunity to interact closely with faculty, and to be a resource for students as they progress through their education.
  • Introduce first-year students to the research, instruction, and public service missions of the university, and foster an understanding of the role of the university in the local, national and international community.

Public research universities like the UGA are amazing institutions. So, in short, a main goal for the FYO is to help you appreciate and understand what UGA is all about, and to help you find a place here where you can contribute to our collective mission while receiving a first-rate education!

Class Overview:

The substantive topic for this class is foreign policy and neuroscience. This means that we will explore how our understanding of foreign policy is shaped by recent advances in the study of human decision making. Topics like war, international economics, peacekeeping, etc. often seem as if they are the result of forces beyond human control. The study of foreign policy and decision making suggests otherwise. Here we learn that the foreign policy choices of governments are driven by the very same factors that shape the decisions you make routinely throughout your everyday life.


I will assign readings as we progress through the course. Each week, after our discussions, we will collectively pick a topic for the following class. The reading burden here will be light and will focus almost exclusively on topics that you will propose and find interesting. Your job will be to come to class prepared to talk about the topics. My job will be to connect these to what we know about decision making from the view of contemporary cognitive science.

Graded Components:

There are five graded components in this class. Each component is worth 100 points.

  • The first is a team-generated project in which you will identify the resources here at UGA that are available to students who wish to do research on International Affairs. The purpose is to familiarize yourself with the resources available to you. This project is due at the mid-point of the semester. You will present your findings to the class and discuss the resources you identified. Your team will also construct a detailed document containing information: web links, contact information, etc. The goal here is a digital web book that can serve as a resource for your colleagues (100 pts)
  • The second component is also a team project. Your team will use these newfound resources to summarize a contemporary foreign policy issue. Both the research resource and foreign policy projects will be presented by your team to the rest of the class (100 pts)
  • Third, students will draft three analytical/thought essays that apply the reading material to a current foreign policy issue (100 points each)
  • Fourth each student will complete a reflective individual essay that will be due the last day of class (100 points)
  • Finally, your active and engaged participation is required for a successful seminar. You can earn up to 100 points through your effective participation. Informed discussion means that you will have to do the assigned readings and come to class prepared for discussion.

I will provide detailed instructions on these assignments during the first two sessions.

The grade scale is as follows (percent basis):

A     100-93

A-   92-90

B+   89-87

B     86- 83

B-   82-80

C+   79-77

C     76-73

C-   72-70

D     69-60

F     59 and below

Reading Assignments:

As we begin the class, the US disputes with North Korea and Iran are prominent and important foreign policy issues in the news today. So we will begin with a discussion of nuclear deterrence and the role of psychological factors in making deterrence decisions. We will start by establishing a basic understating of deterrence logic, and then move to psychology.

August 22

Please read through the slides summarizing the history of nuclear deterrence:


(Optional: This is for those who want a deep-dive into US deterrence policy:


August 29:

Now, let’s extend the idea of nuclear deterrence to its (extreme) logical conclusions.

  • Waltz, Kenneth N. “Why Iran should get the bomb: Nuclear balancing would mean stability.” Foreign Affairs. 91 (2012): 2.

(As you read this, think about arguments that support Waltz and arguments that undermine his ideas)

Sept 5: 

  • Organize team projects to learn about the UGA and its resources.
  • Quattrone, George A., and Amos Tversky. “Contrasting rational and psychological analyses of political choice.” American Political Science Review 82.3 (1988): 719-736

Sept 12:

Loss Aversion:

Think about examples in your everyday life, and how this might explain aspects of foreign policy.

Sept 19

Last week we applied some cognitive psychology to the problem of deterrence. Now let’s think about what neuroscience tells us about making decisions under conditions of fear and threat.

  • Neuroscience and Fear: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/jobs/07pre.html?mcubz=1

(Also think about other examples of how fear is shows-up in our politics, especially about foreign policy. How might that affect the kinds of policies that the American public supports?)

Sept 26

Fear Continued:

October 3

Background on Election Hacking  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/20/us/politics/russia-interference-election-trump-clinton.html

October 10

Hein, G., Silani, G., Preuschoff, K., Batson, C. D., & Singer, T. (2010). Neural responses to ingroup and outgroup members’ suffering predict individual differences in costly helping. Neuron, 68(1), 149-160.