Amanda Friesen joins Department of Political Science

August 04, 2021

Amanda Friesen, Department of Political Science

Amanda Friesen is joining the Department of Political Science.

Friesen is a political psychologist, interested in social and political behaviour, using psychological and life sciences approaches in investigating these areas.

Friesen examines behavioural genetics, through twin studies, to understand genetic and environmental influences on political behaviour. She has focused on physiology to understand how people respond to environmental cues, and how this may relate to political orientations.

Examining political behaviour through this lens can identify aspects that might not be shown through survey responses.

“If you just rely on surveys, or people self-reporting, this can create problems of social desirability. Often people don’t know their own attitudes or responses,” Friesen said. “For example, some people may report an emotion like disgust, but if their physiological responses are measured, the data may show otherwise.”

“There is also a large body of evidence that shows most political traits, such as levels of participation and political ideology, have a strong genetic basis,” said Friesen. “Politics is one more way people express who they are in life.”

She compared political orientation to personality traits widely accepted as being hard-wired, such as being an introvert or extrovert. There are biological factors for these traits, but the way they are expressed or developed can be influenced by the environment.

“You start with a set of traits that influence the way you process the world, but it’s never an either nurture or nature,” Friesen said. “It’s always both.”

Along with genetic influences on political behaviour, Friesen examines how gender and social identities like race and ethnicity impact political engagement. For example, she is interested in understanding differences in risk tolerance between men and women and how this impacts political participation.

“One of the most consistent findings across all risk domains – financial, crime, sexual risk – is that men take more risks than women,” she said. “It makes it interesting regarding how risk orientation may help explain why women might avoid engaging in certain political acts.”

Friesen also researches the interplay and close interconnection of religion and political ideology and behaviour.

“I think religion and politics are the same thing,” she said. “There are certainly different elements: Politics are related to a system of government; religion often has a supernatural element. But both domains provide worldviews to help people make sense and create preferences for group life.”

The way people approach politics will often define who they define or connect to their religious community.
“We know that in the US, when people leave religious communities, it is often connected to political differences,” said Friesen.

Religious communities will often be among the strongest social networks in communities and can impact someone’s individual connections more than specific beliefs.

While Friesen will be a new faculty member, she is already a member of a Western-led team that is receiving a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation. The team is researching the regulation of emotion and racial prejudice and the applications of this research to develop more effective anti-racism programs. The Western project is housed within NEST, and other researchers involved include Jordan Mansell, Victoria Esses and Mathieu Turgeon.

The project, and NEST, fit well with Friesen’s interdisciplinary approach.

“NEST is one of the initiatives that impressed me most about Western. I look forward to joining a team of people, brought together from across campus to better answer questions about societal problems,” she said. “I’m very excited to join both the Department of Political Science and Social Science. There is so much excellent rigorous work being done by faculty at Western.”