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Article

Ingrid J. Haas, Clarisse Warren, and Samantha J. Lauf

Recent research in political psychology and biopolitics has begun to incorporate theory and methods from cognitive neuroscience. The emerging interdisciplinary field of political neuroscience (or neuropolitics) is focused on understanding the neural mechanisms underlying political information processing and decision making. Most of the existing work in this area has utilized structural magnetic resonance imaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or electroencephalography, and focused on understanding areas of the brain commonly implicated in social and affective neuroscience more generally. This includes brain regions involved in affective and evaluative processing, such as the amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate, and orbitofrontal cortex, as well as regions involved in social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex [PFC]), decision making (e.g., dorsolateral PFC), and reward processing (e.g., ventral striatum). Existing research in political neuroscience has largely focused on understanding candidate evaluation, political participation, and ideological differences. Early work in the field focused simply on examining neural responses to political stimuli, whereas more recent work has begun to examine more nuanced hypotheses about how the brain engages in political cognition and decision making. While the field is still relatively new, this work has begun to improve our understanding of how people engage in motivated reasoning about political candidates and elected officials and the extent to which these processes may be automatic versus relatively more controlled. Other work has focused on understanding how brain differences are related to differences in political opinion, showing both structural and functional variation between political liberals and political conservatives. Neuroscientific methods are best used as part of a larger, multimethod research program to help inform theoretical questions about mechanisms underlying political cognition. This work can then be triangulated with experimental laboratory studies, psychophysiology, and traditional survey approaches and help to constrain and ensure that theory in political psychology and political behavior is biologically plausible given what we know about underlying neural architecture. This field will continue to grow, as interest and expertise expand and new technologies become available.

Article

Victor Ottati and Chase Wilson

Dogmatic or closed-minded cognition is directionally biased; a tendency to select, interpret, and elaborate upon information in a manner that reinforces the individual’s prior opinion or expectation. Open-minded cognition is directionally unbiased; a tendency to process information in a manner that is not biased in the direction of the individual’s prior opinion or expectation. It is marked by a tendency to consider a variety of intellectual perspectives, values, attitudes, opinions, or beliefs—even those that contradict the individual’s prior opinion. Open-Minded Cognition is assessed using measures that specifically focus on the degree to which individuals process information in a directionally biased manner. Open-Minded Cognition can function as an individual difference characteristic that predicts a variety of social attitudes and political opinions. These include attitudes toward marginalized social groups (e.g., racial and ethnic minorities), support for democratic values, political ideology, and partisan identification. Open-Minded Cognition also possesses a malleable component that varies across domains and specific situations. For example, Open-Minded Cognition is higher in the political domain than religious domain. In addition, Open-Minded Cognition is prevalent in situations where individuals encounter plausible arguments that are compatible with conventional values, but is less evident when individuals encounter arguments that are extremely implausible or that contradict conventional values. Within a situation, Open-Minded Cognition also varies across social roles involving expertise. Because political novices possess limited political knowledge, social norms dictate that they should listen and learn in an open-minded fashion. In contrast, because political experts possess extensive knowledge, social norms dictate that they are entitled to adopt a more dogmatic cognitive orientation when listening to a political communication.

Article

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.

Article

Shannon C. Houck, Kathleen J. Huber, Mackenzie Ess, and Morgan L. Proulx

Cognitive complexity refers to open-minded, flexible, multidimensional thinking. An individual demonstrating high complexity interprets nuance, thinks about multiple perspectives, distinguishes among ideas, and considers their connections. Conversely, cognitive simplicity involves more concrete information processing wherein an individual may gravitate toward a singular perspective without recognizing alternatives or nuances. Cognitive complexity is a multifaceted construct that has been conceptualized as both a personality trait and a flexible information processing system that changes across situations. This “trait versus state” distinction has led to a wide array of measurements that can be broadly categorized by three distinct methodological approaches: (a) self-report measures, (b) behavioral measures, and (c) language content analysis. Having multiple and often divergent measures of the same construct can pose challenges in some regards, yet it also provides researchers flexibility in how to examine questions at the intersection of politics and cognition. Focal areas of inquiry center around the causes and consequences of cognitive complexity as they relate to political ideology, political attitudes and behavior, and political peace and conflict, among other political dynamics. One of the dominating questions that has driven theory and research in political psychology concerns political ideological differences in cognitive complexity. Research comparing cognitive complexity across the political spectrum suggests political moderates are generally more complex than both conservatives and liberals, whereas conservatives tend to be less complex than political liberals. The relationship between cognitive complexity and political ideology is qualified by several factors, such as the type of complexity measurement used and the topic under consideration. Other research finds that individuals seeking power, such as candidates campaigning for election or advocates fighting for political change, will generally find more success in cognitively simple strategies (e.g., using simple rather than complex communication). Maintaining positions of political power, on the other hand, demands more complexity. These findings have implications that extend beyond elections and governance, some of which are relevant to political peace and conflict. For example, research finds that cognitive complexity is generally associated with peace, and simplicity with violence. Several avenues for future research exist in both theoretical and applied disciplines. One of many possibilities involves the relationship between cognitive complexity and political division and distrust. How do division and distrust influence how people think and process information with respect to cognitive complexity? Does the presentation of “fake news” impact the complexity of thought among media consumers; if so, what consequences might that have on political attitudes and decision-making? Relatedly, research has examined the features of complex (vs. simple) linguistic styles that differentiate true and false stories, finding that liars demonstrated lower cognitive complexity in their deceptive communication. Future research is needed to investigate the possible applications for estimating and predicting deception in news sources and among political leaders. Aside from these examples, the cognitive complexity construct and its variety of measurement approaches affords researchers interested in political domains countless avenues for continued investigation.

Article

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.

Article

Marco Verweij and Antonio Damasio

The somatic marker hypothesis has not always been fully understood, or properly applied, in political science. The hypothesis was developed to explain the personally and socially harmful decision-making of neurological patients who appeared to have largely intact cognitive skills. It posits that affect (consisting of emotions, feelings, and drives) facilitates and expands cognition, is grounded in states of bodily physiology and on the processing of those states in the entire nervous system, and is shaped by a person’s past experiences in similar situations. Thus far, it has received empirical support from lesion studies, experiments based on the Iowa Gambling Task, and brain imaging studies. The somatic marker hypothesis is not compatible with key assumptions on which various influential political and social approaches are based. It disagrees with the largely cognitive view of decision-making presented in rational choice analysis. Contrary to behavioral public policy, the somatic marker hypothesis emphasizes the extent to which affect and cognition are integrated and mutually enabling. Finally, it differs from poststructuralist frameworks by highlighting the constraints that evolutionarily older bodily and neuronal networks impose on decision-making. Rather, the somatic marker hypothesis implies that political decision-making is socially constructed yet subject to constraints, is often sluggish but also is prone to wholesale, occasional reversals, takes place at both conscious and unconscious levels, and subserves dynamic, sociocultural homeostasis.

Article

Contemporary political information processing and the subsequent decision-making mechanisms are suboptimal. Average voters usually have but vague notions of politics and cannot be said to be motivated to invest considerable amount of times to make up their minds about political affairs; furthermore, political information is not only complex and virtually infinite but also often explicitly designed to deceive and persuade by triggering unconscious mechanisms in those exposed to it. In this context, how can voters sample, process, and transform the political information they receive into reliable political choices? Two broad set of dynamics are at play. On the one hand, individual differences determine how information is accessed and processed: different personality traits set incentives (and hurdles) for information processing, the availability of information heuristics and the motivation to treat complex information determine the preference between easy and good decisions, and partisan preferences establish boundaries for information processing and selective exposure. On the other hand, and beyond these individual differences, the content of political information available to citizens drives decision-making: the alleged “declining quality” of news information poses threats for comprehensive and systematic reasoning; excessive negativity in electoral campaigns drives cynicism (but also attention); and the use of emotional appeals increases information processing (anxiety), decreases interest and attention (rage), and strengthens the reliance on individual predispositions (enthusiasm). At the other end of the decisional process, the quality of the choices made (Was the decision supported by “ambivalent” opinions? And to what extent was the decision “correct”?) is equally hard to assess, and fundamental normative questions come into play.

Article

Xavier Noël, Nematolla Jaafari, and Antoine Bechara

Decisions on matters affecting a group by a member of that group (e.g., decisions on a political choice) engage a mix of cognitive and emotion-based resources. Political decision-making involves rationality, but also empathy, intuition, compassion, morality, and fairness. Importantly, coping with uncertainty, assuming risk, dealing with huge responsibilities and resisting disappointment and considerable pressure are also crucial. Some of those decision-making elements from a neurocognitive framework proposed under the somatic marker hypothesis (SMH) are developed here. Based on the observation of abnormal decision-making characterizing patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), the SMH affords discussions of mechanisms involved in antisocial decision-making in the political realm, such as engaging in immoral and corrupt behaviors. In addition, the SMH sheds light on pivotal attributes required for good leadership and governance, such as resistance to pressure, risk-taking, seduction, and dominance, discussed with respect to modern theories of psychopathic tendencies in the context of political decision-making.

Article

Intersectionality is an analytic framework used to study social and political inequality across a wide range of academic disciplines. This framework draws attention to the intersections between various social categories, including race, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Scholarship in this area notes that groups at these intersections are often overlooked, and in overlooking them, we fail to see the ways that the power dynamics associated with these categories reinforce one another to create interlocking systems of advantage and disadvantage that extend to social, economic, and political institutions. Representational intersectionality is a specific application of intersectionality concerned with the role that widely shared depictions of groups in popular media and culture play in producing and reinforcing social hierarchy. These representations are the basis for widely held group stereotypes that influence public opinion and voter decision-making. Intersectional stereotypes are the set of stereotypes that occur at the nexus between multiple group categories. Rather than considering stereotypes associated with individual social groups in isolation (e.g., racial stereotypes vs. gender stereotypes), this perspective acknowledges that group-based characteristics must be considered conjointly as mutually constructing categories. What are typically considered “basic” categories, like race and gender, operate jointly in social perception to create distinct compound categories, with stereotype profiles that are not merely additive collections of overlapping stereotypes from each individual category, but rather a specific set of stereotypes that are unique to the compound social group. Intersectional stereotypes in political contexts including campaigns and policy debates have important implications for descriptive representation and material policy outcomes. In this respect, they engage with fundamental themes linked to political and structural inequality.