Original article:

Is the political animal politically ignorant? Applying evolutionary psychology to the study of political attitudes

Evolutionary Psychology 10(5): 802-817 Michael Bang Petersen, Department of Political Science and Government, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark, michael@ps.au.dkLene Aarøe, Department of Political Science and Government, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark


As evidenced by research in evolutionary psychology, humans have evolved sophisticated psychological mechanisms tailored to solve enduring adaptive problems of social life. Many of these social problems are political in nature and relate to the distribution of costs and benefits within and between groups. In that sense, evolutionary psychology suggests that humans are, by nature, political animals. By implication, a straightforward application of evolutionary psychology to the study of public opinion seems to entail that modern individuals find politics intrinsically interesting. Yet, as documented by more than fifty years of research in political science, people lack knowledge of basic features of the political process and the ability to form consistent political attitudes. By reviewing and integrating research in evolutionary psychology and public opinion, we describe (1) why modern mass politics often fail to activate evolved mechanisms and (2) the conditions in which these mechanisms are in fact triggered.


political attitudes, political science, social cognition, media effects, decoupled cognition, political sophistication

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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