Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Paper prepared for presentation at the Hendricks Conference on Biology, Evolution, and Political Behavior, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 13-14, 2006. Financial support for this project was provided by the Decision, Risk, Management Sciences as well as the Political Science Programs of the National Science Foundation (SES 0350387).


In politics specifically and society generally people often make decisions on behalf of others or experience the results of decisions made on their behalf. In exactly what manner is this important class of decisions different from traditional situations in which people make decisions on their own behalf? How are people’s behavioral and thinking patterns altered by shifting from personal to representational decision-making? Empirical social science research has provided little information on these questions, so in this paper, we draw on evolutionary theory and current knowledge of neuroanatomy to formulate a set of expectations regarding the differences between the decisions and brain processes apparent when people make decisions for themselves and when they make decisions on behalf of others (representation). Using laboratory experiments and, eventually, brain scans, we then provide tests of these hypotheses. One finding of potential interest is that representatives are nearly as mindful of their constituents’ resources as they are of their own resources. Though this result would seem to go against standard principal-agent theory, it makes perfect sense when seen in an evolutionary context. Evolution has likely selected for people who care about what others think of them and who take pleasure when they have been the cause of someone else’s good fortune. We conclude by describing a set of brain scans (fMRIs) we are in the process of conducting that will make it possible to identify any distinct brain activation patterns occurring when representational as opposed to standard (self) decisions are being made.