SeokJoon Kim

[email protected]

Major — International Relations

SeokJoon Kim is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Notre Dame’s International Security Center. His primary research project focuses on signaling, and the perceptions of signals between states in the international system. It is to develop a unified theory of signaling and perception drawing on insights both from rationalist theories of international politics and cognitive psychology. This research, funded by the National Science Foundation, attempts to incorporate a subjective dimension of interpreting states’ behaviors, which has been relatively ignored by the standard rationalist notion of the logic of costly signals. He uses a series of survey experiments and case studies of Americans' perceptions toward China to support his arguments.

He holds a PhD in Political Science from the George Washington University, an M.Phil. in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, and an M.A. and a B.A. in Psychology from Seoul National University, South Korea. During his year at the Notre Dame International Security Center, Seok-Joon will work on turning his dissertation into a series of papers on the theory of signaling.


Current Research

His primary research project, "Do Costly Signals Matter? Unifying Theories of Signaling and Perceptions in International Relations," focuses on signaling and the perceptions of signals between states in the international system. He has three major arguments based on findings drawn from a series of survey experiments and case studies.

He argues that those perceiving an adversary’s actions tend to have a conservative bias: they are late in lowering their guard against enemies exhibiting conciliatory gestures and quick in responding to threats (i.e., a strong and aggressive enemy). Contrary to defensive and motivational realists’ arguments, he argues, costly signals of a hypothetical adversary intended to reassure are not perceived as credible. In contrast, the rationalist theory of costly signals effectively predicts observers’ response to those signals that embody the aggressive motives of a state.

He also contends that democracies receive the benefit of the doubt. When disputes are limited to rhetoric, people perceive democracies to be less threatening, even if those democracies say what any non-democratic country would. However, once disputes elevate to the level of tangible, costly signals, individuals begin to evaluate only the actions on display without regard for regime type.

Finally, he claims that a normative dimension is as important as a material dimension in the theory of signaling. He found that nonmaterial aspects such as information about how a state treats its domestic ethnic/religious/racial minorities affected how perceivers of signals assessed threats posed by a state and how they made foreign policy choices towards that state. Similarly, information about how a state treats other troubled countries suffering from poverty or conflicts also affected observers’ threat perceptions and attitudes towards the signal-sending state.


Ph.D., Political Science, 2016; M.A., 2012
M.Phil, Development Studies (High Pass), 2006
M.A., Psychology (Summa Cum Laude), 2003
B.A., Psychology (Magna Cum Laude), 2001