George M. Bob-Milliar
Since the early 1990s, African states have been democratizing. Political parties now dominate the public spaces in many African democracies. The past 26 years have witnessed the growth and consolidation of “party democracy” in Africa. This is the longest period of uninterrupted growth of electoral politics in many countries on the continent. Recent Afrobarometer surveys show that almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans support pluralistic politics. Party identification in sub-Saharan Africa has also been on the rise. Across 16 states Afrobarometer surveyed, a majority of Africans (65%) claim they “feel close to” a political party in their country. The mass public who identified with a particular political party increased by 7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015.
Political parties are the vehicles for citizens to engage in party activism. The women and men who join a political party become the party activists. Party activists are the lifeblood of the party organization. And political party activism in sub-Saharan Africa is geared toward the election of the party and its candidates into office. Consequently, party activism is a continuum of high-intensity and low-intensity political activities. Party activists vary in their levels of involvement. Thus, it is a mixture of fanfare and aggressive participation. Political party activism is a multifaceted process where party members undertake any of the following political activities: display a poster, donate money, help with fund-raising, deliver election leaflets, help at a party function, attend party meetings, undertake door-to-door campaigning, and run for party office. The involvement of party members usually varies from active engagement to passive attachment to the party. There were several motives for party activists getting involved in “high-intensity participation.” Because of the crucial role party activists play in the intra- and inter-party competition, the parties provide some incentives to get members commitment. At the organizational level, party activists present themselves for election into party offices at the grassroots, regionally or nationally. They devote their time and financial resources in furtherance of the party agenda. In return, party activists expect the party to reward them with selective incentives when power is won. That said, more research is required at the country level to enable us to construct the profile of the African party activists.
Lin Qiu and Riyang Phang
Political systems involve citizens, voters, politicians, parties, legislatures, and governments. These political actors interact with each other and dynamically alter their strategies according to the results of their interactions. A major challenge in political science is to understand the dynamic interactions between political actors and extrapolate from the process of individual political decision making to collective outcomes. Agent-based modeling (ABM) offers a means to comprehend and theorize the nonlinear, recursive, and interactive political process. It views political systems as complex, self-organizing, self-reproducing, and adaptive systems consisting of large numbers of heterogeneous agents that follow a set of rules governing their interactions. It allows the specification of agent properties and rules governing agent interactions in a simulation to observe how micro-level processes generate macro-level phenomena. It forces researchers to make assumptions surrounding a theory explicit, facilitates the discovery of extensions and boundary conditions of the modeled theory through what-if computational experiments, and helps researchers understand dynamic processes in the real-world. ABM models have been built to address critical questions in political decision making, including why voter turnouts remain high, how party coalitions form, how voters’ knowledge and emotion affect election outcomes, and how political attitudes change through a campaign. These models illustrate the use of ABM in explicating assumptions and rules of theoretical frameworks, simulating repeated execution of these rules, and revealing emergent patterns and their boundary conditions. While ABM has limitations in external validity and robustness, it provides political scientists a bottom-up approach to study a complex system by clearly defining the behavior of various actors and generate theoretical insights on political phenomena.
Dane Warner and Jason Gainous
Behavioral research largely treats attitudinal ambivalence as a component of attitude strength. Specifically, attitudinal ambivalence exists when someone simultaneously possesses positive and negative evaluations of a single attitude object. Ambivalent individuals do not have a single “true” attitude about political issues but rather a store of multiple and sometimes conflicting attitudes that they might draw upon at any given time when making a decision. Research has suggested that such ambivalence is quite common when it comes to political attitudes. Thus, understanding the measurement of ambivalence, the sources of ambivalence, and the consequences of ambivalence is critical to understanding political decision making. Ambivalence measures largely fall within one of two types: Meta-attitudinal measures where individuals assess their own ambivalence and operative measures where researchers construct indicators that assess ambivalence without individuals’ cognizance that it is being measured. Most research suggests that operative measures perform better. Research generally assumes that the causes of ambivalence are rooted in individual differences in attitude strength that may result from a host of individual or combined sources. The most common sources of ambivalence researchers focus on are value conflict, differences in political knowledge, Context/Political Environment, and Cross-Cutting Information/Conflicting Networks/Groups. Finally, some of the most prevalent consequences of ambivalence are an increase in susceptibility to influence, an effect on the rate of political participation, and increased variance in vote choice. It is here, in the consequences of ambivalence, where the most direct connection to political decision making is evident. In a democratic society, the decision centered on for whom one votes, is perhaps, the quintessential political decision.
One of the most frequently evoked emotions on a daily basis is anger. Regardless of time and context, anger is a central emotion of action and motivation. Closely related with a number of high arousal negative emotions, such as hatred, disgust, feelings of revenge, and contempt, anger stands out among all with its neural and appraisal foundations and attitudinal and behavioral consequences. More importantly, anger differs from anxiety in essential aspects that place the two emotions in different dimensions. So far, various studies have demonstrated the potential consequences of anger (and its distinct nature from anxiety) across an array of domains including risk assessments, policy preferences, information processing and motivated biases, political participation, social media engagement, group relations and ethnocentrism, intractable conflicts and conflict resolution, and vote behavior. Some others have treated anger as a mediator or a moderator between prior attitudes and beliefs, with evidence on how it could alter primary associations. It is thus relevant to begin with the overview of the theoretical debates and matters of conceptualization, followed by a discussion of how anger differs from anxiety. In pursuit of these foundations, contemporary research tackles the domains where anger plays a critical role in exploration of early 21st-century phenomena such as the populist surge, growing polarization, and disconnected networks across distinct contexts.
Markus Wagner and Davide Morisi
Research has shown emotions affect decision-making in ways that do not simply undermine rationality. Instead, in recent decades researchers have recognized that emotions also motivate and focus individuals and moderate how they make decisions. Initial research into emotions divided these simply into positive and negative, but this perspective has largely been displaced in political psychology by an emphasis on the impact of distinct emotions; among these, anxiety has received the most scholarly attention, rivaled only by anger. The causes of anxiety, also termed fear and unease, are diverse, but research highlights certain attributes of situational evaluation such as low self-control, low certainty, and low external agency.
Once present, anxiety has important consequences for decision-making. First, anxiety increases how much information individuals seek out, a pattern of behavior meant to reduce uncertainty. Second, anxiety decreases heuristic processing and weakens the reliance of underlying convictions in determining decisions. Instead, anxious individuals are more likely to think systematically about choices they face. Importantly, anxiety can affect choices and decisions even if they are not directly related to what caused anxiety to emerge, that is, if anxiety is incidental rather than integral.
In addition to influencing how people make decisions, anxiety may also directly influence the decisions individuals make. Thus, anxiety increases risk aversion, leading individuals to choose safer paths of action. Anxiety also makes individuals less likely to take action at all, with the most common response being withdrawal and passivity. Applied to political decision-making, anxiety may have the important consequence of decreasing political participation.
Research into the role of anxiety in decision-making is fast moving and vibrant, but to become fully established it needs to ensure rigor in measurement and research design; this will require considerable methodological research. Substantively, future research should focus on the effects of elite messages on anxiety as well as on how anxiety influences citizen attitudes and evaluations.
Political tolerance and commitment to egalitarianism have long been examined as possible contributors to attitudes toward LGBT+ people and policies. Since the 1970s, American attitudes toward LGBT+ issues have changed drastically. During this period, public policy and measures of public opinion toward LGBT+ rights have focused on a variety of areas, such as nondiscrimination laws, gay military service, and family matters such as adoption and marriage. Interestingly, although support for equality has remained the same in the United States, individuals have become rapidly more supportive of LGBT+ people securing equal rights in a variety of domains. There are three primary reasons for this shift: elite messaging, attributions of homosexuality, and contact with members of the LGBT+ community, both direct and indirect. These factors have led to an environment in which the value of equality is more readily applied to LGBT+ issues, therefore increasing support for these rights over time.
Elite messaging has played a key role in this shift. Across LGBT+ issues, equality frames are often countered with moral traditionalism, thus leading to an increased propensity for individuals to associate LGBT+ issues with these values. The effectiveness of equality frames has been bolstered by the growing belief that homosexuality is a fixed rather than chosen trait, which yields a greater reliance upon egalitarianism when evaluating LGBT+-related issues. At the same time, both direct and indirect contact with the LGBT+ community increased following the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Americans were first introduced to gay characters on television in the 1970s. LG characters gained more prominent roles throughout the 1990s on shows such as The Real World and Will and Grace. Following Stonewall, LGBT+ activist organizations also advocated that members of the community “come out of the closet” and reveal their sexual orientation to the people in their lives. Thus, the chances of Americans knowing—or at least feeling like they knew—an LGBT+ person increased. Consistent with Allport’s Contact Theory (1954) and Zajonc’s work on “mere exposure effects” (1968), affect toward LGBT+ individuals has generally grown more positive with greater interaction and familiarity. These various factors interacted with underlying predispositions to drastically move public opinion in favor of greater equality for LGBT+ people.
There is a great deal of research, spanning social psychology, sociology, and political science, on politically relevant attitudes toward women and the influence of gender on individual’s political decision making. First, there are several measures of attitudes toward women, including measures of sexism and gender role attitudes, such as the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, the Old-Fashioned Sexism Scale, the Modern Sexism Scale, and the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. There are advantages and disadvantages of these existing measures. Moreover, there are important correlates and consequences of these attitudes. Correlates include education level and the labor force participation of one’s mother or spouse. The consequences of sexist and non-egalitarian gender role attitudes include negative evaluations of female candidates for political office and lower levels of gender equality at the state level. Understanding the sources and effects of attitudes toward women is relevant to public policy and electoral scholars.
Second, gender appears to have a strong effect on shaping men’s and women’s attitudes and political decisions. Gender differences in public opinion consistently arise across several issue areas, and there are consistent gender differences in vote choice and party identification. Various issues produce gender gaps, including the domestic and international use of force, compassion issues such as social welfare spending, equal rights, and government spending more broadly. Women are consistently more liberal on all of these policies. On average, women are more likely than men to vote for a Democratic Party candidate and identify as a Democrat. There is also a great deal of research investigating various origins of these gender differences. Comprehending when and why gender differences in political decision making emerge is important to policymakers, politicians, the political parties, and scholars.
Efrén Pérez and Isaac Riddle
Rather than being a slow, deliberative, and fully conscious process, political thinking is steeped in automaticity: that is, it is fast, relatively effortless, and often unconscious. Political and social psychologists have made great strides in measuring different components of this automaticity while pinpointing its influence on different types of citizens under a variety of social and political circumstances. There are manifold ways through which automaticity seeps into political cognition by focusing on various important domains of political decision-making, including intergroup relations, identity and information processing, and candidate evaluation. Multiple research frontiers in political science exist where automaticity can help break new conceptual and theoretical ground as it relates to people’s thinking, judgment, and evaluation of politics.
Alessandro Del Ponte, Reuben Kline, and John Ryan
Behavioral economics is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that incorporates insights from psychology to enrich standard economic models which assume perfectly rational individuals. Empirical research in behavioral economics typically employs incentivized experiments that use economic games with real money on the line. In these experiments, subjects are awarded financial payoffs based on the decisions they make (either individually or as part of a group) in an institutional context designed by the researcher. Behavioral economics is well suited for political science because behavioral economics is interdisciplinary by nature and political science is not bound by any particular research paradigm. At the same time, the method is still novel to many political scientists despite many years of its use to study political topics in a variety of research areas. What unites the application of the method to these areas is the explicit consideration of conflict. For instance, scholars have uncovered social conflict between groups (e.g., voter polarization in the United States) using behavioral games as measures, or they have designed experiments around elections to test theories of candidate and voter behavior. Because of the clear financial incentives, economic experiments are especially useful for studying people’s actual preferences in areas such as redistribution as opposed to their stated preferences. Finally, the method can be used to design institutions that will help overcome conflict over scarce resources. In sum, the strengths of behavioral economics include: (a) the ability to vary institutional contexts; (b) clear incentives that ensure valid measures of preferences; (c) direct measures of behaviors instead of stated intentions which could be confounded by outside pressures such as social desirability.
Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz and Seyoung Jung
The study of biology and politics is rapidly moving from being an isolated curiosity to being an integral part of the theories that political scientists propose. The necessity of adopting this interdisciplinary research philosophy will be increasingly apparent as political scientists seek to understand the precise mechanisms by which political decisions are made. To demonstrate this potential, scholars of biopolitics have addressed common misconceptions about biopolitics research (i.e., the nature-nurture dichotomy and biological determinism) and used different methods to shed light on political decision making since the turn of the 21st century—including methods drawn from evolutionary psychology, genomics, neuroscience, psychophysiology, and endocrinology. The field has already come far in its understanding of the biology of political decision making, and several key findings have emerged in biopolitical studies of political belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors. This area of research sheds light on the proximate and ultimate causes of political cognition and elucidates some of the ways in which human biology shapes both the human universals that make politics possible and the human diversity that provides it with such dynamism. Furthermore, three emerging areas of biopolitics research that anticipate the promise of a biologically informed political science are research into gene-environment interplay, research into the political causes and consequences of variation in human microbiomes, and research that integrates chronobiology—the study of the biological rhythms that regulate many aspects of life, including sleep—into the study of political decision making.
Brooke N. Shannon, Zachary A. McGee, and Bryan D. Jones
Bounded rationality conceives of people engaging in politics as goal oriented but endowed with cognitive and emotional architectures that limit their abilities to pursue those goals rationally. Political institutions provide the critical link between micro- and macro-processes in political decision-making. They act to (a) compensate for those bounds on rationality; (b) make possible cooperative arrangements not possible under the assumptions of full or comprehensive rationality; and (c) fall prey to the same cognitive and emotional limits or canals that individual humans do. The cognitive limitations that hamper individuals are not only replicated at the organizational level but are in fact causal.
Paul A. Djupe and Brian R. Calfano
In the main, the link between religious variables and political choices is wrapped up in a communicative process of exposure and adoption. Specifically, people become exposed to religious teachings and viewpoints within religious contexts, they then must determine whether and to what extent they will adopt those teachings and viewpoints as their own, and then they must adapt them to political ends. Critical to this approach is the acknowledgment that religious social and institutional contexts are rife with diversity, even within religious traditions. This diversity extends to religious adherents, congregations, and elites and means that people receive a variety of religious and political cues from religious sources across time and space. It is this variation that is critical to measure in order to understand religion’s effects on political behavior. That is, documenting the implications of religious diversity is as much a question of research design as it is a theoretical framework. This framework is flexible enough to accommodate the growing literature examining political input effects on religious output.
The norms and patterns of exposure and adoption vary by the combination of the communicator and context: political communication in congregations, religious communication effects on politics in congregations, and religious communication by elites in public space. There are very few instances of political elites in religious spaces, at least in the United States. Presidents and other political elites have used religious rhetoric throughout American history in varying proportions, though how they have used it is changing in the Trump era to be much more particularistic and exclusive rather than the traditional broad and inclusive language of past presidents.
A central variable moderating the impact of communication is credibility, which can be demonstrated in multiple ways, including political agreement as well as religious office, rhetorical choices, and decision-making processes. Religious elites, especially, battle against the weight of history, inattention, and misperception in their attempts to lead prophetically. As a result, religious elite influence, in the sense of changing hearts and minds, is a fraught enterprise.
Naturally, we recommend adopting research designs that are appropriate for incorporating measurement on communication exposure so we can appropriately understand adoption decisions. This demands some creativity on behalf of researchers, which also drives them toward experimental work where exposure questions are built into the design and affords them a great deal of control.
Framing effects are produced by political communications that emphasize certain characteristics or consequences of an issue or policy to the exclusion of other features. By increasing the accessibility of those characteristics in people’s judgments, individuals can be swayed between supporting and opposing a policy depending on the valence of the highlighted feature. The preference inconsistencies that define framing effects were generated initially in environments in which individuals responded to a singular framing of an issue (i.e., a one-sided frame) at the expense of alternative conceptualizations of the problem. An important question is whether framing effects can be diminished by the competition among ideas that is characteristic of democratic politics.
The analysis of competitive framing has focused on the interaction between individual predispositions and processing styles and the combination of messages that individuals receive. The effectiveness of any particular communication strategy will depend on the characteristics of the target audience (specifically its values, knowledge, and processing style), the availability and applicability of the frames employed (i.e., whether they are strong or weak), and the degree to which there is competition and debate over the issues.
Research has been based on increasingly realistic experimental designs that attempt to reproduce how people encounter and process communications about politics in natural environments. The competitive context affects how much information people receive as well as how they process that information. In noncompetitive political environments, individuals, especially those who are unmotivated, tend to apply whatever considerations are made accessible by the one-sided messages they receive. In contrast, competing frames tend to stimulate individuals to deliberate on the merits of alternative interpretations.
The key difference between competitive framing in a single period versus over time is that when people receive competing messages about political issues over the course of a campaign or debate, their attitudes are affected not only by the content of the messages but also the sequence and timing of communications. The same set of messages will have a different impact depending on the order and combinations in which those messages were received. The most significant implication of these dynamics is that democratic competition—even when the opposing frames are balanced and of equal strength—may reduce or eliminate framing effects only when people receive the opposing frames simultaneously.
The magnitude of framing effects at different junctures of a campaign depends on the extent of exposure to frames and the degree to which citizens learn and retain information derived from those frames. Individuals who more efficiently process and store information—the online processors and those with a strong need to evaluate—are less likely to be moved by the latest frame because they are stabilized by the attitudes they have developed in prior phases of the campaign. There are promising hints in over-time studies that longer-term exposure to debate (beyond the short-term campaigns simulated in experiments) could gradually familiarize motivated individuals with both sides of the issue and diminish the subsequent influence of one-sided frames.
Online processing, and the models arising from it, starts with an optimistic view of the American voter, in which it is supposed that the seeming ignorance of voters does not prevent them from expressing rational attitudes about the very political objects they do not know much about. This means that the seeming ignorance of voters is not necessarily a threat to electoral democracy, but the cognitive structures needed for this sort of rationality also lead to necessary, and sometimes extreme, biases in political information processing. Since information stored in long-term memory is linked, both semantically and affectively (that is, based on the perceived positive or negative valence of the information), affect—understood here as a simple positive or negative valence—colors all steps of information processing. For instance, individuals are likely to avoid, or counter-argue, or simply reject information that is at odds with their existing views. As a result, individuals of different political persuasions may have difficulty coming to agreement on the correct interpretation of relevant facts, or even the facts themselves. Alternative memory-based models, which propose that evaluations are constructed on the spot when a question is asked, may help to explain response instability, but fail to serve as complete replacements for the online processing approach. The bias caused by affect-infused cognition seems to present challenges for electoral democracy just as much as the seeming ignorance it accounts for, but it is argued that such biases are mostly limited to individuals who already hold fairly strong existing attitudes, a group which is unlikely to include most voters. Moreover, some degree of intransigence is likely a good thing, as the alternative is views that shift rapidly with new information.
Richard Ned Lebow
Counterfactuals seek to alter some feature or event of the pass and by means of a chain of causal logic show how the present might, or would, be different. Counterfactual inquiry—or control of counterfactual situations—is essential to any causal claim. More importantly, counterfactual thought experiments are essential, to the construction of analytical frameworks. Policymakers routinely use then by to identify problems, work their way through problems, and select responses. Good foreign-policy analysis must accordingly engage and employ counterfactuals.
There are two generic types of counterfactuals: minimal-rewrite counterfactuals and miracle counterfactuals. They have relevance when formulating propositions and probing contingency and causation. There is also a set of protocols for using both kinds of counterfactuals toward these ends, and it illustrates the uses and protocols with historical examples. Policymakers invoke counterfactuals frequently, especially with regard to foreign policy, to both choose policies and defend them to key constituencies. They use counterfactuals in a haphazard and unscientific manner, and it is important to learn more about how they think about and employ counterfactuals to understand foreign policy.
Gizem Arikan and Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom
In research on religiosity and support for democratic norms, two major debates stand out: The first concerns whether some religious traditions, such as Islam or Orthodox Christianity, are inherently undemocratic, and hence whether supporters of these traditions have antidemocratic orientations. The second debate is about whether religious orientations beyond religious identification foster or hinder support for democratic norms. Both debates may be resolved by conceptualizing both individual religiosity and support for democratic norms as multidimensional orientations. At the individual level, religiosity consists of belief, behavior, and belonging dimensions. Support for democratic norms consist of overt approval of democracy as the ideal system of governing the country and intrinsic support, which refers to an understanding of democracy as being primarily associated with liberal-democratic norms and institutions such as popular sovereignty, political equality, civil rights, and free elections. Religious belief is negatively associated with over support, and religious social behavior is positively associated with overt support. Yet, there is some evidence that the effect of religious social behavior on intrinsic support for democracy may not be positive. Recent scholarship is also interested in identifying the psychological mechanisms through which different religiosity dimensions affect support for democratic norms, as well as establishing the causal effects of religiosity dimensions by experimentally manipulating different facets of religiosity.
Although the multidimensional approach to religiosity provides a general framework that explains the effect of religiosity on support for democratic norms, there is still substantive variation across time and different contexts to be explained. Avenues exist for future research in terms of theorizing and identifying the moderating effects of different factors, most obviously the religious context and the influence of religious elites and social networks.
Gaurav Sood and Yphtach Lelkes
The news media have been disrupted. Broadcasting has given way to narrowcasting, editorial control to control by “friends” and personalization algorithms, and a few reputable producers to millions with shallower reputations. Today, not only is there a much broader variety of news, but there is also more of it. The news is also always on. And it is available almost everywhere. The search costs have come crashing down, so much so that much of the world’s information is at our fingertips. Google anything and the chances are that there will be multiple pages of relevant results.
Such a dramatic expansion of choice and access is generally considered a Pareto improvement. But the worry is that we have fashioned defeat from the bounty by choosing badly. The expansion in choice is blamed for both, increasing the “knowledge gap,” the gap between how much the politically interested and politically disinterested know about politics, and increasing partisan polarization. We reconsider the evidence for the claims. The claim about media’s role in rising knowledge gaps does not need explaining because knowledge gaps are not increasing. For polarization, the story is nuanced. Whatever evidence exists suggests that the effect is modest, but measuring long-term effects of a rapidly changing media landscape is hard and may explain the results.
As we also find, even describing trends in basic explanatory variables is hard. Current measures are beset with five broad problems. The first is conceptual errors. For instance, people frequently equate preference for information from partisan sources with a preference for congenial information. Second, survey measures of news consumption are heavily biased. Third, behavioral survey experimental measures are unreliable and inapt for learning how much information of a particular kind people consume in their real lives. Fourth, measures based on passive observation of behavior only capture a small (likely biased) set of the total information consumed by people. Fifth, content is often coded crudely—broad judgments are made about coarse units, eliding over important variation.
These measurement issues impede our ability to answer the extent to which people choose badly and the attendant consequences of such. Improving measures will do much to advance our ability to answer important questions.
Understanding how individuals make political decisions in a complex and ever-changing world requires recognition of the dynamic nature of the environment, as well as theoretical and methodological strategies to address these complications. As the scholarly understanding of the limits of human cognition expands, researchers can no longer rely on decision-making models that assume unlimited time, resources, and/or abilities of voters. Fortunately, dynamic process tracing models demonstrate the information processing component of decision-making, turning the focus away (slightly) from the decision outcome and toward the ways that people come to these decisions. These models derive from weaker, but more accurate, assumptions about the cognitive abilities of humans and provide critical insight into both the factors that voters consider when making decisions and the ways voters incorporate those factors into their decisions. In addition, thanks to the work of Lau and Redlawsk, these processes are directly observable with their Dynamic Process Tracing Environment (DPTE).
Researchers relying on dynamic process tracing models are now able to assess the influence of political and demographic factors on the pattern, content, and amount of information voters access and rely on when making political decisions. These models offer a more realistic view of voter abilities than rational choice models, as well as providing greater insight into the process of decision-making (rather than the outcome of the process) than much of the work deriving from the Michigan model of public opinion. Additionally, the DPTE offers advantages over earlier static information board studies.
Rather than seeing one’s self in conflict with decades of public opinion research, however, scholars in the dynamic process tracing tradition would be wise to consider their work as complementary. A focus on political variables as outcomes misses a crucial cognitive step: the evaluation of environmental stimuli through the lenses of short- and long-term predispositions. As scholars seek to understand why voters possess certain attitudes, they should ask how those attitudes were formed in the first place. Dynamic process tracing models allow for theorizing about and empirically testing components of the decision-making process previously left uninvestigated.
There are lots of ways that emotions have been studied in psychology and various ways that their use has been examined in the context of foreign policy. Perhaps one of the most useful ways to examine the influence of emotion on foreign policy is through the lens of risk and threat assessment. Some approaches to emotion tend to categorize emotions as valence-based, in terms of broad-based positivity or negativity. Certainly, elements of this kind of approach can be useful, particularly in terms of thinking about the ways in which political conservatives appear to have a negativity bias. However, an investigation of discrete emotions allows a more sophisticated and nuanced exploration of the effect of emotion on risk analysis and threat assessment, in particular the effect of fear, anger, and disgust on decision-making under conditions of risky threat. Genetic, as well as environmental, circumstances can influence individual variance in the experience and expression of such emotions, and any comprehensive approach to understanding the influence of emotion on decision-making should take all these factors into account.
Anthony C. Lopez
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.