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Ross Gildea wins 2016 Research Master Thesis Prize

Ross Gildea has won the Institute of Political Science Research Master Thesis Prize 2016. ‘The Political Psychology of Humanitarian Issue (Non-)Adoption in International Politics’ is the crowning achievement of Gildea’s work as a MSc student. The thesis, according to the jury, stands out as a ‘fine example of theoretically grounded and methodologically innovative engagement with a topic of clear relevance to societal debates and political choices’.

Why are some humanitarian crises prioritised over others?

In his thesis, Gildea addresses a critical but under-studied issue in international politics: why national governments, international organisations and NGOs prioritise some humanitarian crises over others. To answer this question, he derives hypotheses on decision-making from the psychology literature on cognitive heuristics and tests them with an ambitious multi-method design combining a multivariate factorial survey of state and NGO decision-makers using six experimental vignettes and semi-structured interviews with government and NGO officials from Ireland and the Netherlands.

Violence, responsibility chain, and cultural affinity

The experimental results indicate that decision-makers are most likely to prioritise a humanitarian crisis when it involves extreme violence and a clear causal chain of responsibility is apparent. A sense of cultural affinity with the victims also contributes, but less strongly. The interview findings support the role of the responsibility chain and cultural affinity while suggesting that extreme violence has more relevance for state decision-makers than for NGO officials.

‘Methodologically innovative’

The jury compliments Gildea with a ‘well written and clearly argued’ work. The Political Psychology of Humanitarian Issue (Non-)Adoption in International Politics, written under the supervision of Daniel Thomas and Niels van Willigen, offers ‘a fine example of theoretically grounded and methodologically innovative engagement with a topic of clear relevance to societal debates and political choices.’

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