Of BOLD Claims and Excessive Fears: A Call for Caution and Patience Regarding Political Neuroscience

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Abstract

Published and informal assessments of the prospects for neuroimaging in political science have tended to range from overexuberant to reflexively dismissive. We seek to present a cautious but fair middle ground in considering this new methodology, primarily from an epistemological perspective. Our examination centers on the relationship between two levels of analysis, focusing on the potential for connection between behavior-based theories of political psychology and cognition and the neural processes and systems involved in generating behaviors and states of mind. We explore the place of each level of analysis on its own, as well as the potential for the fruitful interaction of the two. This analysis brings together opinions and ideas presented by others in various forums and across multiple disciplines, offers a discussion of the the promises and perils of neuroimaging in its application to social science, as well as some practical thoughts regarding its early-stage incorporation into political psychology. We argue in favor of proceeding with more substantial incorporation of neuroimaging into political psychology's methodological arsenal, but note that this will initially require both (1) greater acceptance of work more focused on presenting empirical results than on providing dispositive evidence in broader theoretical debates and (2) a commitment on the part of those conducting this research to refrain from overstating the definitiveness of its theoretical implications.

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