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The Force of Face-to-Face Diplomacy: Mirror Neurons and the Problem of Intentions

  • Marcus Holmes (a1)

Face-to-face diplomacy has long been the lynchpin of international politics, yet it has largely been dismissed as irrelevant in theories of cooperation and conflict—as “cheap talk” because leaders have incentives to dissemble. However, diplomats and leaders have argued for years that there is often no substitute for personally meeting a counterpart to hash out an agreement. This article argues that face-to-face diplomacy provides a signaling mechanism that increases the likelihood of cooperation. Face-to-face meetings allow individuals to transmit information and empathize with each other, thereby reducing uncertainty, even when they have strong incentives to distrust the other. The human brain has discrete architecture and processes devoted to parsing others' intentions via cues in face-to-face interaction. These processes enable actors to directly access the intentions of others with a higher degree of certainty than economic and game-theoretic models of bargaining predict.

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