Book chapter

The Somatic Marker Hypothesis and Political Life (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

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.