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The Feeling of Rationality: The Meaning of Neuroscientific Advances for Political Science

  • Rose McDermott (a1)

Recent advances in the neurosciences offer a wealth of new information about how the brain works, and how the body and mind interact. These findings offer important and surprising implications for work in political science. Specifically, emotion exerts an impact on political decisions in decisive and significant ways. While its importance in political science has frequently been either dismissed or ignored in favor of theories that privilege rational reasoning, emotion can provide an alternate basis for explaining and predicting political choice and action. In this article, I posit a view of decision making that rests on an integrated notion of emotional rationality.Rose McDermott is the author of Risk Taking in International Relations (1998) and Political Psychology in International Relations (2004) and works largely in the areas of political psychology, experimentation, and American foreign policy. The author is grateful to Jennifer Hochschild, Robert Jervis, and Stephen Rosen for generous and constructive advice and encouragement; and to Gerald Clore, Jonathan Cowden, Thomas Kozachek, Jonathan Mercer, Joanne Miller, Philip Zimbardo, the members of the Political Psychology and Behavior Workshop at Harvard, and anonymous reviewers for useful guidance and suggestions.

Passion is a sort of fever in the mind, which ever leaves us weaker than it found us.

—William Penn, Fruits of Solitude (1693)

We consider affective processing to be an evolutionary antecedent to more complex forms of information processing; but higher cognition requires the guidance provided by affective processing.

—Ralph Adolphs and Antonio Damasio, “The Interaction of Affect and Cognition” (2001)

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