Tying Hands, Sinking Costs, and Leader Attributes

Keren Yarhi-Milo, Joshua D. Kertzer, Jonathan Renshon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Do costly signals work? Despite their widespread popularity, both hands-tying and sunk-cost signaling have come under criticism, and there’s little direct evidence that leaders understand costly signals the way our models tell us they should. We present evidence from a survey experiment fielded on a unique sample of elite decision makers from the Israeli Knesset. We find that both types of costly signaling are effective in shaping assessments of resolve for both leaders and the public. However, although theories of signaling tend to assume homogenous audiences, we show that leaders vary significantly in how credible they perceive signals to be, depending on their foreign policy dispositions, rather than their levels of military or political experience. Our results thus encourage international relations scholars to more fully bring heterogeneous recipients into our theories of signaling and point to the important role of dispositional orientations for the study of leaders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2150-2179
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • experiments
  • leaders
  • political psychology
  • signaling


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