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.
Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz and Seyoung Jung
Mathew V. Hibbing, Melissa N. Baker, and Kathryn A. Herzog
Since the early 2010s, political science has seen a rise in the use of physiological measures in order to inform theories about decision-making in politics. A commonly used physiological measure is skin conductance (electrodermal activity). Skin conductance measures the changes in levels of sweat in the eccrine glands, usually on the fingertips, in order to help inform how the body responds to stimuli. These changes result from the sympathetic nervous system (popularly known as the fight or flight system) responding to external stimuli. Due to the nature of physiological responses, skin conductance is especially useful when researchers hope to have good temporal resolution and make causal claims about a type of stimulus eliciting physiological arousal in individuals. Researchers interested in areas that involve emotion or general affect (e.g., campaign messages, political communication and advertising, information processing, and general political psychology) may be especially interested in integrating skin conductance into their methodological toolbox. Skin conductance is a particularly useful tool since its implicit and unconscious nature means that it avoids some of the pitfalls that can accompany self-report measures (e.g., social desirability bias and inability to accurately remember and report emotions). Future decision-making research will benefit from pairing traditional self-report measures with physiological measures such as skin conductance.