Philip Petrov and GSB Professor Jonathan Bendor - A Socio-Cognitive View of Identity in Politics: Between Michigan and Rochester

Mon, Apr 12 2021, 11:30am - 12:30pm

All normal humans have social identities, and all—both “mass” and “elite”—rely on (social) identity-based thinking to structure their understanding of politics, be it in large-scale elections or in other political domains, such as high-school cliques and prison gangs. Although identity-based thinking is strategically sophisticated, it is cognitively easy for humans, partly because it is egocentric. Identity-based thinking is also stable: it persists even after people learn to use more difficult, non-egocentric ways of thinking, e.g., reasoning based on spatial models of politics. That people tend to structure their understanding of politics around mental representations of self, friends, and friends of friends helps to explain (inter alia) why low-information voters can quickly identify their political allies and opponents; why even high-information politicians can have biased perceptions of their constituents; why affective polarization has been increasing in recent decades; and why many normative theories of justice call upon people to override identity-based thinking


Philip Petrov is a graduate student in Political Science who studies the intersection of law, cognition, and political behavior.

Jonathan Bendor is the Walter and Elise Haas Professor of Political Economics and Organizations at the Graduate School of Business. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1979, having earned all of his degrees at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a Professor of Political Science, by courtesy, and also teaches in Stanford’s Public Policy Program. He was director of the GSB’s Doctoral Program for four years. He teaches the MBA course on negotiations and plans to write a (short) text on the subject.
Bendor was a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1999-2000 and in 2004-2005. He is in the Who’s Who in Economics (4th ed.) and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.