Cognitive Complexity

October 2, 2008

The reference for the study on cognitive complexity of presidents is below. I see that it was written before Reagan was president, so I must be mis-remembering that part. Phil Tetlock was one of my professors at UC Berkeley, and he may have talked about later presidents (e.g., Reagan) during his lectures. In any case, it’s an interesting study. A main point is that candidates keep their stories simple until they are elected, and then may shift to more complex thinking. The inability to do this has been associated with failures of revolutionary leaders and entrepreneurs – their black/white single-minded thinking works at first but is not adequate to address the complexities of the resultant nation or organization.

Tetlock, P. E. (1981). Pre‑ to post‑election shifts in presidential rhetoric: Impression management or cognitive adjustment? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, 41, 207‑212.

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