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The Study of Discrete Emotions in Politics  

Cigdem V. Sirin and José D. Villalobos

Numerous empirical works document that discrete emotions have substantive and differential effects on politically motivated processes and outcomes. Scholars have increasingly adopted a discrete-emotions approach across various political contexts. There are different theoretical paths for studying discrete emotions. Appraisal theories contend that cognition precedes emotion, where distinct cognitive appraisal tendencies elicit discrete emotional reactions associated with specific coping mechanisms. Affective Intelligence Theory, another dominant paradigm in the study of discrete emotions in politics, argues for affective primacy. Others are more concerned with the level of analysis issue than the emotion-cognition sequence. For instance, Intergroup Emotions Theory calls for differentiating between individual-level and group-based discrete emotions, asserting that the latter form is a stronger predictor of collective political actions. Scholars also need to consider which methodological strategies they should employ to deal with a range of issues that the study of discrete emotions brings about. For instance, one issue is how to effectively induce a specific emotional state such as hope without also triggering other related yet discrete emotions such as enthusiasm in an experimental setting. Beyond these theoretical and methodological choices, there are various opportunities to diversify the field of study. Above all, the field needs more cross-national replications and extensions of U.S.-based findings to help resolve the debate over the universality versus contextuality of discrete emotions. The field would also benefit from the study of a wider array of emotional states by expanding beyond its main focus on negative discrete emotions. Contemporary developments—such as the increasing use of social media by the public and political actors—further offer novel platforms for investigating the role of discrete emotions.


Political Neuroscience: Understanding How the Brain Makes Political Decisions  

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.


Emotions in Foreign Policy Decision Making  

Rose McDermott

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.


Voter Information Processing and Political Decision Making  

Alessandro Nai

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.


Anxiety, Fear, and Political Decision Making  

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.