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Front Psychol. 2016 Feb 25;7:264. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00264. eCollection 2016.

Do Political and Economic Choices Rely on Common Neural Substrates? A Systematic Review of the Emerging Neuropolitics Literature.

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Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University Montreal, QC, Canada.
Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, Department of Political Science, McGill University Montreal, QC, Canada.


The methods of cognitive neuroscience are beginning to be applied to the study of political behavior. The neural substrates of value-based decision-making have been extensively examined in economic contexts; this might provide a powerful starting point for understanding political decision-making. Here, we asked to what extent the neuropolitics literature to date has used conceptual frameworks and experimental designs that make contact with the reward-related approaches that have dominated decision neuroscience. We then asked whether the studies of political behavior that can be considered in this light implicate the brain regions that have been associated with subjective value related to "economic" reward. We performed a systematic literature review to identify papers addressing the neural substrates of political behavior and extracted the fMRI studies reporting behavioral measures of subjective value as defined in decision neuroscience studies of reward. A minority of neuropolitics studies met these criteria and relatively few brain activation foci from these studies overlapped with regions where activity has been related to subjective value. These findings show modest influence of reward-focused decision neuroscience on neuropolitics research to date. Whether the neural substrates of subjective value identified in economic choice paradigms generalize to political choice thus remains an open question. We argue that systematically addressing the commonalities and differences in these two classes of value-based choice will be important in developing a more comprehensive model of the brain basis of human decision-making.


decision-making; functional MRI; heuristics; meta-analysis; neuroeconomics; reward

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