Countering the Prominence Effect: How US National Security Lawyers Can Fulfill Non-Prominent Humanitarian Objectives

Prominence Effect

Decision researchers describe a “prominence effect” that leads decision makers to choose an option with more defensible attributes when quantitative assessment of those options is difficult. Prominence is hypothesized as a factor in US policy decisions not to use military force to prevent or stop humanitarian crises. Prominence is also regarded as a behavioral failure affecting both the general public and public officials that can be mitigated to improve welfare outcomes in transnational security decisions. This article—by David G. Delaney and Paul Slovic—considers those hypotheses as they relate to attorneys advising the US president and other senior public officials addressing transnational security issues. It proposes a combination of institutional, organizational, and individual steps to mitigate prominence and related behavioral failures.

By David G. Delaney

David G. Delaney teaches law, national security, and leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A West Point graduate, he served as Deputy Associate General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security until 2013. He is a senior fellow with the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security and a faculty affiliate with the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University.

By Paul Slovic

Paul Slovic, a founder and President of Decision Research and Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, studies human judgment, decision making, and risk analysis. He and his colleagues worldwide have developed methods to describe risk perceptions and measure their impacts on individuals, industry, and society. He publishes extensively and serves as a consultant to industry and government.

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