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How Do Negotiators and Context Interact?

LeighAnne Liu
Department of Management
Vanderbilt University
June 2002


Social cognition, enactment, Gestalt psychology, and connectionism are the bases for an analysis of how individual characteristics and situational variations interact in negotiation. I propose that negotiation is a parallel constraint satisfaction process where individual characteristics and situations influence and re-shape the meaning of each other. This connectionist approach offers a theoretical alternative to negotiators' cognition by considering the individual characteristics and the context simultaneously from a holistic perspective.

When people need to reach a joint decision but have different preferences, they negotiate.
Theoretically, negotiation research has been aimed at demystifying the process and its associated outcomes. In doing so, researchers have largely taken two approaches. One examines at the dynamics of information processing capabilities of negotiators. The other investigates the effect of stable traits, like individual differences, personality, style, motivational orientation, gender, race, and culture. Based on theories of enactment, interactionist approaches in social cognition, and Gestalt psychology, I seek here to develop a connectionist model of negotiation. My essential argument is that connectionist models, especially the parallel constraint satisfaction process, reconcile the differences of the current two approaches and highlights the dynamics of negotiation process from a holistic perspective.

The cognitive approach represented by Max Bazerman focus on the situational factors that influence negotiation. Bazerman and colleagues' research address a number of deviations from rationality that can be expected in negotiations. For example, they suggest that in two-party negotiations the negotiators tend to be inappropriately affected by the positive or negative frame in which risks are viewed, they tend to over rely on readily available information, and be overconfident about the likelihood of attaining outcomes that favor themselves.

The other approach looks at the stable traits of individuals and groups and argues that individual differences like personality and group variations like cultural orientation make difference in the negotiators' behavior. For example, some researchers found that extravert people tend to give in more in zero sum negotiations. People from collectivist cultures, like Chinese and Japanese, tend to adopt a style that avoids confrontation while individualists like the Americans tend to use a more direct style to communicate during negotiations.

In this dissertation, I propose to study negotiation from a holistic perspective where the situational factors and stable trait factors influence each other simultaneously. Theoretical bases for this proposition are interactionism and Gestalt psychology.
Interactionists stress that it is the interaction between one's disposition and the situation that determines behavior. Social learning theorists like Bandura believe that behavior can be best understood by considering it as a joint product of individual differences variables and environmental factors.

Gestalt psychology emphasizes a holistic approach rather than examining social situations piece by piece. The following characteristics make negotiators' psychological processing fits the principles of Gestalt psychology:
1) Negotiation is to reach common grounds from different interests, values, personalities, and motivations;
2) The agreement would influence all areas of interests. A new piece of information may alter the entire payoff structure. All the communication cues counts together in decision making;
3) An integrative agreement is synthetic and would benefit both sides;
4) The presentations of offers and tactics of using time constraints play a critical role in the payoff structure;
5) Parties strive for agreements that ultimately reduce tension and conflicts.

Connectionist models offer a computational methodology to empirically test the proposed interactions. Largely used in computer science and artificial intelligence, connectionist models embrace the idea that information processing arises from the interactions of large numbers of simple neuron-like units. More importantly, no single neuron in the human brain does its job alone, and neural networks decide things collectively and simultaneously rather than just in sequence. Connectionist models can approximate the kind of spontaneous, creative, and somewhat unpredictable behavior of human beings.

Social psychologists have used connectionist models to study group impression, person perception, stereotyping, and causal attribution. Here I adopt a connectionist analysis and discuss the application in understanding negotiation. Based on connectionist models, I would use computerized simulations to test the interactions of individual characteristics and contextual factors in negotiation. Further, a negotiation simulation with human subjects will also be used to confirm results from computerized experiments.

From this dissertation, I contribute to the negotiation research in two ways. First,
I offer a holistic perspective to negotiators' cognition by considering the individual factors and situational factors simultaneously. Second, I adopt a new methodology that combines computer simulation and human subject survey.