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A Somatic Marker Perspective of Political Decision Making  

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

The Somatic Marker Hypothesis and Political Life  

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.