Thesis Title

The Application of Prospect Theory to Deterrence Analysis: Investigating the Causal Mechanisms That Influence Japan's Decision to Attack Pearl Harbor

Date of Graduation

Spring 2007


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

Bradley Thayer


deterrence, decisionmaking, game theory, human behavior, Pearl Harbor, prospect theory

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


This study posits that rational deterrence theory is incapable of accurately assessing all facets of human decisionmaking; its contingency on rationality and cost-benefit calculations fails to address the cognitive mechanisms involved in decisionmaking, particularly during times of crisis and conflict. Prospect theory, the leading alternative to rational choice theory, emphasizes the importance of cognitive analysis when investigating and interpreting human behavior. Through a prospect theory analysis, guided by process tracing methodology, this study proves that a cognitive model is required to fully understand the reasoning behind Japan's decision to attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Furthermore, with the application of prospect theory, this study identifies the causal mechanisms that significantly influenced Japanese political decisionmaking, demonstrating that rational choice based deterrence theories are too rigid to account for all factors that impact the decision process.


© John Michael Friend