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The Middle Way


by Patrick Appel

Jonah Leher describes the compromise effect. When presented with three options we are irrationally inclined to pick the middle one. Leher thinks Obama's Afghanistan decision fits this model:

The point is that most of us are natural compromisers, eager to find a middle-way. (There's some suggestive evidence that the tendency to pursue the compromise option is mediated by culture, with East Asians more likely than Westerners to show the compromise effect.) Furthermore, our compromising tendencies can be skewed by the audience: when American subjects were told that they might have to defend their choice in front of a whole classroom, they shifted towards the safety of the middle option. Obama, of course, needed to justify his decision to an entire planet.

(Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Image)