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Jul 28, 2011 3:59 PM by Matt Stafford

Psychology of debt talks is all in the game of chicken

WASHINGTON (AP) - It's like a dangerous game of "chicken" -- with two cars racing at each other, head-on. Psychologists and mediators are offering that view of the political wrangling over the debt limit.

Experts in international relations say it's a scenario in which it sometimes helps to seem crazy. And while it usually ends in a fair deal, sometimes it's a complete disaster.

The founder of the Harvard International Negotiation Program says in this instance, there's "very little listening" and "very little learning" going on. Daniel Shaipro adds that when leaders frame it as a war to their political bases, "it becomes a war."

One way to win a game of chicken is to toss the steering wheel out the window, and make sure the other side knows it and will be forced to flinch. Professor Joshua Goldstein at American University says the side with the least to lose is more believable when it threatens to do that. And he says in this case, it's the tea party followers who have the least to lose -- while President Barack Obama has to worry about being re-elected.

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