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The Social Brain and Politics: The Effects of Social Inclinations and Stress on Political Participation

Karl Giuseffi, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation explores the social dimensions of people that differentially predispose them to participate in politics. Politics is inherently social, yet crucial social interaction dispositions are almost entirely overlooked. This dissertation explores the degree social interaction traits shape political and social participation. I argue and test that social anxiousness and empathy are key to understanding people’s social interactions and political participation. Social anxiousness and empathy act independently and interact to change participation. These social interaction traits are studied alongside of biologically related correlates, which are related to the dispositions and likely influence political participation. Analyses indicate that empathy counteracts the negative effect of social anxiousness and the interaction between empathy and social anxiety boosts participation, which is supported across several chapters. Each simple main effect and the interaction has unique contributions to political participation; meanwhile, the Big Five personality dimensions have provided little, if any, predictive information regarding participation. In my third chapter, I examined people’s neural processing and correct identification of facial expressions relative to political participation. The P100 was examined due to its relationship to individual differences like empathy and social anxiousness. The P100 was neither related to nor predictive of political or social participation in either bivariate or multivariate models. Correct identification of negative emotions was related to social anxiousness and predictive of decreases in political participation only. Finally, in Chapter 4, voting and non-voting participation are studied. Social and physiological stress, cortisol, and political stress are examined alongside social anxiousness and empathy. The longstanding interactive effect of social anxiousness and empathy from previous chapters fades away, while internal pressures captured by the interaction of social anxiousness and cortisol create a negative, compounding effect on political participation. The implications for research are that there are several consistent and robust findings regarding empathy and social anxiety that require ongoing research. Each of the stressors plays different roles with substantially different implications for research on political participation and whether empathy can abate them.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Giuseffi, Karl, "The Social Brain and Politics: The Effects of Social Inclinations and Stress on Political Participation" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI29998801.