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Complexity and crisis : an analysis of cognitive performance under stress in the case of George W. Bush Came, Timothy Paul

Abstract

The deleterious effects of stress on cognition have been well established, both experimentally and in archival research. Such effects are not universal, however, and individual differences in the susceptibility of senior political leaders to these effects are of considerable importance. The present study employs Integrative Complexity (IC) coding to investigate the relationship between stresshl conditions and cognitive complexity in the case of U.S. President George W. Bush. In addition to assessing whether or not Mr. Bush shows unusual resistance to stress, as several contributors to the biographical and journalistic literatures concerning him and his presidency have suggested (Study I), the project was designed to also perform an initial test of the hypothesis that U.S. presidents’ patterns of cognitive response to stress can be predicted by the patterns evinced during their first successful presidential campaign (Study 11) and test theory which posits that conservatives show low IC across issues and conditions against the case of Mr. Bush (Study 111). The strength of the results was attenuated by low inter-rater reliability in measurement of IC. However, the initial results, subject to revision pending re-coding of the materials studied, disconfirmed assertions that Mr. Bush shows unusual resistance to stress (Study I), found qualified support for the hypothesis that U.S. presidents’ cognitive patterns under stress can be predicted by their patterns as presidential candidates (Study 11), and showed significant differences in President Bush’s IC across issue domains, lending support to the cognitive manager and value pluralism views of IC against the predictions of the ideologue and rigidity-of-the-right hypotheses. Further research is indicated, particularly with regard to studies I and 11.

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