|Neuroscience is developing a new and rigorous understanding of how humans behave – an empirical picture of human nature. This new understanding will redefine politics.|
Research into the brain, genetics, and human evolution is defining our nature not as fixed, but made up of fixed elements and ‘plasticity’ working together in changing ways. The flexibility of our minds emerges from layers of innate instincts. Some instincts we are stuck with, but they operate differently in different social contexts, or when domesticated by learning and maturity. For too long, politics has described human nature with conveniently narrow assumptions. An empirical, subtle understanding of behaviour will lead us to approach politics and the way we govern very differently.
This project is framed by one idea: taking psychological needs as seriously as material needs. This project will range across a variety of areas including choice architecture, early childhood, and the national curriculum. These will look at the policy implications of human nature, cognitive bias in health and finance, happiness economics and resilience, character and virtue, habit formation, peer support and coaching psychology, and morality and progressive politics. The brain is no longer seen as a slowly decaying organ, or a blank slate. It is a learning machine, evolving minute-by-minute: ‘the brain that changes itself’.
Behavioural economics and research into decision-making bias shows us that humans are not perfectly rational. We have imperfect self-control, we often misjudge risk, and we tend to discount the future to heavily. Policy makers need a revised understanding of rational decision-making, and a better idea of what systemic irrationalities tend to emerge at a population level.
Drawing on this research, this project will explore a new policy tool, ‘choice architecture’. By designing the decision-making context to mitigate cognitive biases, this approach can underpin new policy models in health, education, finance, and environmental behaviour. Socially good outcomes can be encouraged, while still maintaining freedom of choice.