Greetings from the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Toronto.
In the first time in its 104 years, the meeting takes place outside the US. According to the organizers, this traveling across a border is symbolic for the conference theme “Politics in Motion: Change and Complexity in the Contemporary Era”. The event, consisting of hundreds of panels and an exhibition, looks at what is new, different and unusual in politics today and aims to think about what knowledge is needed to deal with change and complexity and address today’s crucial challenges.
Emotions and Politics
Looking for the unusual in the thick conference program, I attended a panel on neuropsychology and international politics. The panel converged two fields that have been unconnected previously: brain science and international politics.
The presenters advocated the consideration of emotions when studying political decision making. Evidence shows that cognition (thinking) is actually preceded by emotions (feelings). Hence, “rational” decisions are taken on the basis of emotional beliefs. According to the panelists, it is, however, still unknown how cognition and emotions work together in different situations.
What do these findings in brain science mean for political science and international affairs?
1) The core of strategic and security studies is challenged. So far, it is assumed that decision makers base their decisions on rationality. The fact, however, that rationality itself is dependent on emotional beliefs shows that these decisions are often based on uncertainty and, hence, lead to strategic decision that fail.
2) Research shows that different emotions activate different attitudes towards risk. Global economic catastrophes, for example, could be better managed if emotions are better controlled.
3) Socially institutionalized fear (of which prisons, fences and border controls are expressions) could be altered. Emotions are not genetically pre-programed but develop with every interaction. This suggests that emotional beliefs of decision makers should be altered to bring about fundamental changes in conflict settings.
Put simply, an improved understanding of emotions would lead to a better control of emotions and, thus, to better decisions in politics.
The APSA conference still lasts until Sunday noon. If you are at APSA, say hi at booth no 632.