Library Element Report

Understanding our Political Nature: How to put knowledge and reason at the heart of political decision-making

Uploaded by RRI Tools on 22 July 2019

Mair D., Smillie L., La Placa G., Schwendinger F., Raykovska M., Pasztor Z., van Bavel R.,
Understanding our political nature: How to put knowledge and reason at the heart of political decision-making, EUR 29783 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-76-08621-5, doi:10.2760/374191, JRC117161

What really drives political decision-making

Sixty international experts working in the fields of behavioural and social sciences as well as the humanities, have contributed to the analysis of how and why emotions, values, identity and reason affect how we think, talk and take political decisions. 

The report "Understanding our political nature" highlights the need for evidence-informed policymaking as a precondition for well-functioning democracies.

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, responsible for the Joint Research Centre, said: "Simply making more information available to citizens or decision makers is not enough to guarantee more informed or better decision-making. If we want political decision-making to bring about positive social change, we need to better understand how emotions, values, identity and reason affect how we think, talk and take decisions on political issues."

The report looks at some of the most pressing political issues, such as disinformation, different views on values and identity, and tries to understand the underlying behavioural and social processes. It highlights in particular how our thinking is challenged by today's information environment, which also makes us vulnerable to being misled by disinformation.

The key findings from the report in detail are:

  • Misperception and Disinformation: Our thinking skills are challenged by today's information environment and make us vulnerable to disinformation. We need to think more about how we think.
  • Collective Intelligence: Science can help us re-design the way policymakers work together to take better decisions and prevent policy mistakes.
  • Emotions: We can't separate emotion from reason. Better information about citizens' emotions and greater emotional literacy could improve policymaking.
  • Values and Identities drive political behaviour but are not properly understood or debated
  • Framing, Metaphor and Narrative: Facts don't speak for themselves. Framing, metaphors and narratives need to be used responsibly if evidence is to be heard and understood.
  • Trust and Openness: The erosion of trust in experts and in government can only be addressed by greater honesty and public deliberation about interests and values.
  • Evidence-informed policymaking: The principle that policy should be informed by evidence is under serious attack. Politicians, scientists and civil society need to defend this cornerstone of liberal democracy.

There is a chapter dedicated to each key finding which outlines the latest scientific thinking as well as an overview of the possible implications for policymaking.

The report also argues that the ways in which values and identity influence political behaviour are not yet properly understood.

The report, like other JRC publications, will inform the Commission’s policy-making. 


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