Politics and the life sciences


POLS 322                                                                                           Dr. Rebecca J. Hannagan

Spring 2007                                                                                        406 Zulauf Hall

T/Th 3:30 – 4:45 pm                                                                        rhannaga@niu.edu

Dusable 459                                                                                       Hours:  T/Th 2 - 3:30 pm,

& by appointment



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 also consider the role of emotions in cognitive processes and how they affect political behavior. 


This is a research-based class.  You will be reading research and then writing a research paper.  The readings for this course consist of a survey of recent research from the fields of biology, psychology, anthropology, economics, and political science.  We will read all of these studies paying special attention to methodological approaches used 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 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 your ability to react to them.  Reading difficult material and then thinking analytically about the possible implications is a skill – and a skill that you can learn. 


Course Materials: 

  • Articles posted on Blackboard
  • The Sentimental Citizen: Emotion in Democratic Politics by George Marcus


You are expected to have your reading done each day before you come to class.  This is a seminar style course, meaning there is more focus on discussion than lecture.  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, three reaction papers, and class participation.  The following is a breakdown of how the grades will be weighted:


Midterm Exam            15%                 Reaction Papers          25%                 Participation    15%

Final Exam                  15%                 Paper                           30%                


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).  If your homework or paper is late, you will receive a 0 on that assignment.  If you do not show up for an exam, you will receive a 0 on that exam.  If you have a situation that requires exception, you must notify me well in advance and be prepared to produce documentation. 


Blackboard is your friend.  Check it often for announcements and important course documents.  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.


No cell phone use during class (including text messaging).  Please turn your cell phones off (and not just on vibrate).  Please do not read the newspaper, talk to your friends or sleep during class. Do not come to class late or leave early.  These are inappropriate behaviors for a university class and are disruptive to your peers.  Be respectful of those around you. 


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.


For important information on the Department of Political Science, please visit: http://polisci.niu.edu/


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:


January 16:  Introduction and course overview


January 18:  Epistemology and the Standard Social Science Model


I.          Evolution in Small Groups: Machiavellian Intelligence and Social Cooperation


January 23:  Primer on Evolution and Evolutionary Psychology


January 25:  Social Cooperation – Machiavellian Intelligence

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


January 30:  Social Cooperation – Altruism and Egalitarianism

  • 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.


February 1:  Social Cooperation – Strong Reciprocity

  • Read Fehr and Fishbacher, “Third-party Punishment and Social Norms.”  Evolution and Human Behavior.  25: 63-87.


February 6:  Social Cooperation – Wary Cooperators

  • Read Hibbing and Alford, “Accepting Authoritative Decisions:  Humans as Wary Cooperators.”  American Journal of Political Science. 48: 62-76.
  • Read Brosnan and DeWaal, “Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay.”  Nature. 425: 297-299.
  • First Reaction Paper Due over “Social Cooperation” Readings.


February 8:  Human Nature – Egalitarian or Hierarchical?

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


February 13:  Human Nature – Egalitarian or Hierarchical?

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


February 15:  Social Conflict – War

  • Read Wrangham, “Evolution of Coalitionary Killing.”  Yearbook of Physical Anthropology.  42: 1-30.


February 20:  Review for Exam


February 22:  Midterm Exam


February 27:  Discussion of Papers – Topic Selection and Writing


March 1:  Discussion of Papers – Library Research


II.        The Brain and Political Psychology


March 6:  Psychology and Political Behavior

  • Read Ostrom, “Toward a Behavioral Theory Linking Trust, Reciprocity, and Reputation.”  In Trust and Reciprocity.  New York: Russell Sage, pp. 19-79.


March 8:  No Class


March 13:  No Class (Spring Break)


March 15:  No Class (Spring Break)


March 20:  Psychology and Political Behavior

  • Larimer et al., “Balancing Ambition Among Decision Makers.”  Unpublished manuscript under review.
  • Second Reaction Paper Due over “Psychology and Political Behavior” Readings.


March 22:  Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

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


March 27:  Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

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


March 29:  Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

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


April 3:  Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

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


April 5:  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.


April 10:  Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read Dolan, “Emotion, Cognition, and Behavior.”  Science.  298: 1191-1194.


April 12:  No Class (Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference)


April 17:  Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read Eisenberger et al., “Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion.”  Science.  302: 290-292.


April 19:  Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Behavior

  • Read Richeson and Shelton, “When Prejudice Does Not Pay: Effects of Interracial Contact on Executive Function.”  Psychological Science.  14: 287-290.
  • Third Reaction Paper Due over “Psychology, Neuroscience and Political Behavior” Readings.


April 24:  Groups 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.


April 26:  Groups and Political Decision Making

  • Hannagan et al., “Decision Making in Gendered Groups: Context, Preferences and Outcomes.”  Unpublished manuscript under review.


May 1:  Review and Paper Presentations


May 3:  Last Day of Class – Review for Final and Evaluations

  • Papers Due


Final Exam:  Thursday, May 10  4:00 – 5:50 pm