Honors Theses

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Intelligence and Security Studies

First Advisor

David Bath

Relational Format



Manipulating an opponent is nothing new to warfare, but what is new is the understanding behind modern tactics, psychology, and the how the two intertwine under real world circumstances. One modern tactic, particularly used by the Russian government, is called reflexive control. This hybrid warfare tactic is used to manipulate an opponent into unknowingly making decisions benefiting the manipulator while harming the opponent. Though executed through many outlets, reflexive control is aimed at flaws within the opponent's decision making process. Many such flaws are categorized as cognitive biases derived from mental shortcuts that can lead the brain to misjudge information. This paper begins research on the question: do cognitive biases make the United States vulnerable to Russia's use of reflexive control? To answer this question, it must be determined if there is a correlation between cognitive biases and vulnerability to reflexive control. Finding this correlation could possibly provide a greater understanding of modern-day Russian reflexive control, and a narrower understanding of what makes the United States vulnerable to Russian hybrid warfare. To make this determination, this paper analyzes Cold War and modern literature on reflexive control, analyzes literature on cognitive biases, and studies U.S.-Russian relations and Western-Russian relations from the Cold War to 2017. After examining Western literature and instances of reflexive control, this paper determines that cognitive biases play a role in Western countries' foreign policy. Though foreign policy decisions rely on policymakers, this paper looks at how analysts, specifically intelligence analysts, can better understand the relationship between cognitive biases and reflexive control in order to better inform policymakers.



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