In the APSA Public Scholarship Program, graduate students in political science produce summaries of new research in the American Political Science Review. This piece, written by Ashley C.J. Daniels, covers the new article by Michael A. Neblo, Ohio State University, “Impassioned Democracy: The Roles of Emotion in Deliberative Theory”
Do you remember the first time you learned to separate your mind from your heart? You might remember a first heartbreak or a time when peer pressure got the best of you. You likely came away from those experiences with advice to separate your emotions from your reasoning in order to make better, more logical decisions. This theory seems applicable everywhere, especially in the study of politics. Consider the current events our elected officials (governors, mayors, congress, etc.) trying to make critical policy decisions about the COVID-19 crisis. Though the politicians may be at a crossroads in grappling with feelings of sadness due to the devastating effects of COVID-19, it is assumed that those feelings shouldn’t “get in the way” of their political decisions. Such assumptions are challenged in a new article by Michael Neblo from Ohio State University.
In Neblo’s article, he talks about how emotions can play a valuable role in our political decision-making, specifically in deliberative democracy, which emphasizes the use of deep thought as part of the policymaking process. Neblo argues that how one feels is never separated from how one thinks. In fact, both of these characteristics are closely intertwined with each other. Logic rarely operates solely by itself; it may always be coupled with emotions. With this in mind, Neblo suggests that the role of emotions and logic within politics should be explored a bit more than it has.
Using a metaphor of someone being approached by an angry bear, Neblo illustrates how our emotions can still be present even when we think we are not using them. As imagined, a person being approached by a bear will feel extremely fearful. However, although they may be trying to put their fear aside for the sake of thinking about a clear escape plan away from the bear, their heart may race, they may sweat, and show various other physical forms of fear while they think. From Neblo’s perspective, this proves that though one may think they are solely using their logic to make a critical decision their body response may show otherwise that emotions are still very present in the moment. Neblo believes that “emotions are felt situational evaluations that motivate action.” He arrives at this conclusion reviewing a number of past works of other scholars on the subject and develops his own idea of how this process works.
Neblo states that there are twelve roles that emotions play in our decision-making. He divides his overall theory of emotions into three parts–feelings, situational evaluations, and motivating actions. Feelings are for when a person feels their emotion; situational evaluations are how the person uses their emotions to evaluate the situation; motivating actions are the actions taken as a result of what was felt. These roles are critical in how we think, act, and react to various situations. For example, roles like normative relevance (how we consider a situation as relevant enough for action), motivation to deliberate (what prompts us to think deeply about a situation), and enabling conditions (our ability to empathize for and with others) are critical to what guides people’s decisions.
This work is important for two reasons. First, Neblo challenges the common assumption that there is a disconnect between emotions and logic. Emotions play a critical role in our logical thinking whether we want them to or not. Second, Neblo’s explanation of the different roles emotions play in our decision-making gives us a deeper perspective on how we operate as people and citizens. It’s not a bad thing that emotions are present in our thought process; it is a human thing. So whether you’re a lovesick teenager trying to break up with someone or a politician who is strategizing what policy to use to correct a social issue, in both cases, emotions are equally important and present in those decisions.
- Ashley C.J. Daniels is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University. She conducts research in the areas of Black Politics, Black feminist and womanist theory, public opinion, and popular culture. After completing her undergraduate studies at Bowie State University (BSU), where she received a Bachelor of Arts in English, she continued her education by earning Master of Arts degree in Public Administration. Her dissertation is entitled, The Power of the Sister Vote, which explores how Black women candidates are evaluated by Black women voters who are members of four of the nine historic Black sororities of the National Pan Hellenic Council. Professionally, she works at the Delta Research and Educational Foundation in Washington, D.C.
- Article details: American Political Science Review, Volume 114, Issue 3, “Impassioned Democracy: The Roles of Emotion in Deliberative Theory”, August 2020 , pp. 923-927
- About the APSA Public Scholarship Program.