Political Science 322 – Politics and the Life Sciences

Northern Illinois University

Fall Semester 2006

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:30-4:45 pm


Professor:  Rebecca J. Hannagan

Office Hours:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:30 – 2:30 pm and by appointment

Office:  ZH 406

Contact Info:  753-9675, rhannaga@niu.edu


Course Objective:  Significant political debates involve issues raised by advances in the life sciences that create both promise and unease about transformations in the human condition.  Politics and the Life Sciences, or “biopolitics,” is a specialized field in political science that endeavors to study the intersections of the biological and social sciences.  This can include environmental policy, biological warfare, biomedical technology, and the biological bases of behavior. 


In this course we will focus specifically on the biological bases of behavior.  We will draw on evolutionary theory, and specifically the tenets of evolutionary psychology, to frame our approach to studying behavior.  We will consider how genes and the environment interact and how this interaction relates to observable human behavior and what we consider important political behavior.  We will consider the role of emotions in cognitive processes and how they affect behavior. 


The readings consist of a survey of recent research from the fields of biology, psychology, anthropology, economics, and political science – paying special attention to methodological approaches and their implications for our understanding of political behavior.   The readings for this course are not typical of a course in political science.  Some of the articles are written in the style of the natural sciences, are quite dense, and may contain complex methodologies.  Do not let this scare you away.  I do not expect you to understand everything you will be reading immediately.  I do, however, expect you to spend some time with the readings and do your best to get at what each reading is about, generally, and why it matters to the study of political behavior.  Sometimes this will not be obvious.  You will have to do a considerable amount of analytical thinking and writing in this course.  As we progress through the material it is my hope that you will become more comfortable with the readings and reacting to them.  Reading difficult material for clarity and understanding and then thinking analytically about the possible implications is a skill – and a skill that you can learn. 


Course Materials: 

The Sentimental Citizen: Emotion in Democratic Politics by George Marcus

POLS 322 Course Packet


In addition to the material in the required book and course packet, I will provide various handouts and direct you to URL’s from time to time.  You are expected to have your reading done each day before you come to class.  Part of your grade is contingent upon your participation in class discussion so it is important that you come to class prepared to discuss the material. 



Calculation of Grades:  Your grade in this course will consist of your performance on two exams (a midterm and a final exam), one longer paper, various homework assignments, and class participation.  The following is a breakdown of how the grades will be weighted:


Midterm          20%                 Homework      20%                 Participation    15%

Final                25%                 Paper               20%                


I will adhere to the following grading scale:

100-97% = A+

89-87% = B+

79-77% = C+

69-67% = D+

59% < = F

96-93% = A

86-83% = B

76-73% = C

66-63% = D


92-90% = A-

82-80% = B-

72-70% = C-

62-60% = D-



General Information:  I do not accept late work, nor do I offer make-up exams (NO EXCEPTIONS! Don’t ask).  I reserve the right to modify the schedule in the interest of time or due to the difficulty of the material.  If I decide to modify the schedule I will notify the class immediately upon my decision and post an announcement on Blackboard.  If changes are made and you are not aware of them because you do not regularly attend class or choose to sleep during class there will be no exceptions made to accommodate you.  It is in your best interest to attend every class and pay attention to the material being covered.


This syllabus is a contract between me (the professor) and you (the student).  The syllabus will be available on Blackboard throughout the semester for your reference.  If you have any questions about the policies set forth in the syllabus, I highly recommend that you talk to me during the first week of classes.  It is at that time that any significant changes can be made.  After that, if you choose to remain in the class I assume that you agree to the policies and procedures I have set forth in the syllabus. 


Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities.  Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CARR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building.  CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors.  It is important that CARR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Academic Dishonesty:  The maintenance of academic honesty and integrity is of vital concern to the Department of Political Science and the University community. Any student found guilty of academic dishonesty shall be subject to both academic and disciplinary sanctions.  If I find that you have plagiarized your academic work, you will receive an F on the assignment – no exceptions.  If you are caught cheating, falsifying, or otherwise misrepresenting your work twice, you will fail the class.  In addition, if I suspect academic dishonesty your name will be turned over to the Chair of the Political Science Department who will make a determination as to further disciplinary action which may include academic probation or expulsion.


Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, the following: cheating, fabrication and falsification, plagiarism, and misrepresentation to avoid academic work.  If you are unsure whether something is considered academic dishonesty, ask me.  It is much better to be overzealous at the outset and ask many questions to avoid being accused of cheating, plagiarism, and so forth.  I would like to reiterate that I take this very seriously and therefore, so should you.




Tentative Schedule:


August 29:  Introduction and course overview


August 31:  No Class (I am attending the American Political Science Association Conference)


I.          Conceptual Framework: Machiavellian Intelligence


September 5:  Primer on Evolution and Evolutionary Psychology


September 7:  Social Cooperation: The Evolution of Cooperative Dispositions

  • Read Orbell et al., “’Machiavellian’ Intelligence as a Basis for the Evolution of Cooperative Dispositions.”    American Political Science Review. 98: 1-15.


September 12:  Social Cooperation:  Altruism

  • Read Gintis, “Explaining Altruistic Behavior in Humans.”  Evolution and Human Behavior. 24: 153-172.
  • Read Cashdan, “Egalitarianism among Hunters and Gatherers.”  American Anthropologist.  82: 116-120.


September 14:  Social Cooperation:  Altruistic Punishment

  • Read Fehr and Fishbacher, “Third-party Punishment and Social Norms.”  Evolution and Human Behavior.  25: 63-87.
  • Read Brosnan and DeWaal, “Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay.”  Nature. 425: 297-299.


September 19:  Social Cooperation:  The Wary Cooperator

  • Read Hibbing and Alford, “Accepting Authoritative Decisions:  Humans as Wary Cooperators.”  American Journal of Political Science. 48: 62-76.


September 21:  Social Conflict: Dominance Hierarchies

  • Read Boehm, “Chapters 1-2” of Hierarchy in the Forest.  Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.


September 26:  Social Conflict: Dominance Hierarchies

  • Read Boehm, “Chapter 3” of Hierarchy in the Forest.  Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.


September 28:  Social Conflict:  Warfare

  • Read Wrangham, “Evolution of Coalitionary Killing.”  Yearbook of Physical Anthropology.  42: 1-30.
  • Read Shergill et al., “Two Eyes for an Eye: The Neuroscience of Force Escalation.”  Science.  July 11: 187.


October 3:  Review for Exam


October 5:  Midterm Exam


II.        Genetic and Environmental Interaction: Nature via Nurture


October 10:  Primer on Genetics

  • Read Mattick, “The Hidden Genetic Program of Complex Organisms.”  Scientific American. pp. 60-67.


October 12:  No Class (I am attending the Hendricks Conference on Political Behavior)


October 17:  Report on Hendricks Conference


October 19:  Nature via Nurture:  The Role of Genes

  • Read Caspi et al., “Role of Genotype in the Cycle of Violence in Maltreated Children.”  Science.  297: 851-853.
  • Read Caspi et al., “Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene.”  Science. 301: 386-389.


October 24:  Nature via Nurture:  Heritability

  • Read Alford et al., “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?”  American Political Science Review.  100: 153-167.


October 26:  Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read the first half of Marcus, The Sentimental Citizen.  Pennsylvania University Press.


October 31:  Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read the second half of Marcus, The Sentimental Citizen.  Pennsylvania University Press.


November 2:  Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read Bouchard and McGue, “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Psychological Differences.”  Journal of Neurobiology.  54: 4-45.


November 7:  Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read McDermott, “The Feeling of Rationality: the Meaning of Neuroscientific Advances for Political Science.”  Perspectives on Politics.  2: 691-706.


November 9:  Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read Jost et al., “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition.”  Psychological Bulletin.  129: 339-375.


November 14:  Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read Dolan, “Emotion, Cognition, and Behavior.”  Science.  298: 1191-1194.
  • Read Ostrom, “Toward a Behavioral Theory Linking Trust, Reciprocity, and Reputation.”  In Trust and Reciprocity.  New York: Russell Sage, pp. 19-79.


November 16:  Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read Eisenberger et al., “Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion.”  Science.  302: 290-292.
  • Read Richeson and Shelton, “When Prejudice Does Not Pay: Effects of Interracial Contact on Executive Function.”  Psychological Science.  14: 287-290.


November 21:  Group Behavior and Political Decision Making

  • Kurzban et al., “Can Race Be Erased? Coalitional Computation and Social Categorization.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  98: 15387-15392.


November 23: No Class – Thanksgiving break


November 28:  No Class – Work on research papers


November 30:  Paper Presentations


December 5:  Paper Presentations


December 7:  Last Day of Class – Review for Final and Evaluations


Final Exam:  Tues. December 12, 4:00-5:50 p.m.