States in Mind: Evolution, coalitional psychology, and international politics

  • Lopez A
  • McDermott R
  • Petersen M
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Abstract

One of the most com-monly studied puzzles in international politics is the recurrence of coalitional competition and aggression between political groups such as states. Indeed, this pattern constitutes an enduring and central feature of all politics. Yet de-spite the tragic endurance of this leitmotif throughout history, its manifestation varies through time and space. Some wars are fought for honor or revenge, whereas others are ignited for mere opportunism or as a consequence of vari-ous misperceptions, whatever their source. We argue that evolutionary theory provides a theoretical framework that can explain both the stubborn endur-ance and dynamic diversity of coalitional behavior. Debate on the relevance of " human nature " and biological factors for explaining political behavior is not new. 1 Yet the comprehensive value of evo-lutionary theory for explaining important aspects of international politics has not been adequately explicated. As we discuss below, this has in part been a consequence of general skepticism about the validity and scope of evolution-ary theory for explaining political behavior. We argue, however, that evolu-tionary psychology can generate falsiªable ex ante predictions that are of central interest to the study of international politics, and we offer several hy-potheses derived from this model to illustrate the depth of this approach. Evo-lutionary psychologists have already generated a large body of work that suggests that the human brain contains webs of psychological mechanisms, or adaptations, each designed to operate in domains relevant to modern politics, and which emerged as a product of natural selection. Furthermore, researchers have begun to realize that humans come equipped with an evolved "

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