Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics reached a major milestone by publishing our 1000th article! For more information visit our News page.

Dismiss
Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, POLITICS (oxfordre.com/politics). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 08 August 2020

Summary and Keywords

The application of evolutionary theories or models to explain political decision making is quickly maturing, fundamentally interdisciplinary, and irreducibly complex. This hybridization has yielded significant benefits, including real progress toward understanding the conditions under which cooperation is possible, and a clearer understanding of the apparently “irrational” drivers of political violence.

Decision making requires a nervous system that conditions motivation and behavior upon adaptively relevant cues in the environment. Such systems do not exist because they maximize utility, enlightenment, or scientific truth; they exist because on average they led to outcomes that were reproductively beneficial in ancestral environments. The reproductive challenges faced by our ancestors included not only ecological problems of predator avoidance but also political problems such as inter-group threat and the distribution of resources within groups. Therefore, evolutionary approaches to political decision making require direct and deep engagement of the logic whereby natural selection builds adaptations. This view of human psychology yields valuable insights on the domain specificity of political decision making as well as the psychological consequences of mismatch between modern and ancestral environments. In other words, there is accumulating evidence that many of the complex adaptations of the human brain were designed to solve the many problems of ancestral politics.

This discussion begins by distinguishing evolutionary approaches from other frameworks used to explain political decision making, such as rational choice, or realism in international relations. Since evolutionary models of political decision making have now produced decades of original theoretical and empirical contributions, we are in a useful position to take stock of this research landscape. Doing so crystalizes the promises, perils, and scope of evolutionary approaches to politics.

Keywords: evolutionary psychology, political psychology, political preferences, bias, heuristics, decision making, political decision making

Access to the complete content on Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription. If you are a student or academic complete our librarian recommendation form to recommend the Oxford Research Encyclopedias to your librarians for an institutional free trial.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.