Thematic Content Analysis in an Early Warning System for Deterrence
Peter Suedfeld and Ryan W. Cross
The University of British Columbia
Thematic Content Analysis (TCA) is a method for converting qualitative material, such as verbal text, to quantitative data through replicable, reliable, and rigorous procedures. A variety of coding manuals are available to score for different psychological variables in areas including cognition, affect, motivation, aspirations, values, and personality.
TCA has been applied to issues in political psychology for several decades. Among other uses, TCA scoring of cognitive complexity and motive imagery has shown both anticipatory and concurrent changes related to intergroup conflict and compromise. Complexity reliably goes down, and Power imagery goes up, before and during outbreaks of war, with no such pattern when negotiations proceed successfully toward a peaceful resolution. Aside from the theoretical significance of these patterns in the study of cognition and motivation related to stress and decision-making, the data can be useful to practitioners in (a) monitoring the progress of negotiations and adapting strategies accordingly, and (b) identifying patterns that point to impending war and taking steps for defense and possible deterrence.
The current paper presents results of studies using the TCA measure of integrative complexity, sometimes in conjunction with the TCA measure of motive imagery, to identify patterns that reliably precede episodes of asymmetric political violence. These have included acts of terrorism as well as governmental suppression of dissent.
One example discussed will be the scoring of several years of the ongoing comments of the Israeli and Iranian governments concerning the latter’s progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Another will be the combination of negotiations and terrorism in Northern Ireland, particularly the statements of leaders of factions of the Irish Republican Army and its parliamentary avatar, Sinn Fein.
The results resemble those previously found in connection with major international wars. However, specific difficulties are noted in efforts to anticipate and thus perhaps deter terrorist acts.