About Cognitive Policy

There are two aspects of every policy: a cognitive policy and a material policy. Material policies consist of the nuts and bolts, what is to be done in the world to fulfill policy goals. For example, the details of a health care plan, or a plan for getting out of Iraq. Material policies each have a cognitive dimension, often unconscious and implicit. This includes the ideas, frames, values, and modes of thought that inform the political understanding of the material policy. For example, consider the following questions: Do all Americans, just by their very existence, deserve health care, just as they deserve police protection? How does focusing on health care differ from emphasis on health insurance? How these questions are answered plays a crucial role in what the material details of health care policy should be.

Cognitive policy is about the values and ideas that both motivate the policy goals and that have to be uppermost in the minds of the public and the media in order for the policy to seem so much a matter of common sense that it will be readily accepted.

This framework motivates a Cognitive Criterion for Public Support for any robust policy:

An effective policy must be popular if it is to stand the test of time and it must be popular for the right reasons, namely because it promotes the right long-term values in the minds of citizens, reinforced through the lived experience.

Cognitive Policy Works is centrally concerned with the cognitive dimension of particular material policies and how the cognitive dimension—the often-unstated ideas behind material policies—shapes those policies. We are especially concerned with how change in those ideas point toward material policy changes.

But there is a deeper aspect to cognitive policy—general cognitive policy: strategies for getting high-level ideas—values, frames and principles—to dominate public discourse and shape public understanding so that future material policies will be natural and win public support with ease. This requires inputs from the cognitive and behavioral sciences to ensure that political operations engage with people in ways that reflect the workings of the mind.

These articles explore cognitive policy as it pertains to voting behavior, relevant issue areas, and strategies for advancement of political goals:

Why Voters Aren’t Motivated by a Laundry List of Issues on Positions

Comparing Climate Proposals: A Case Study in Cognitive Policy

To Respect and Protect: Expanding Our Discourse on Immigration

Don’t Think of a Sick Child: The Logic of the Health Care Debate
(0.4 MB PDF)

Why Environmental Policy Needs a Cognitive Dimension
(2.8 MB PDF, published in Environmental Forum September, 2008)