Hibbing named AAAS fellow

John Hibbing
John Hibbing

Political scientist John Hibbing joins an elite group of scientists with his designation this month as a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science – and the distinction of being one of just 15-20 political scientists among the ranks.

Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. This year's AAAS Fellows will be formally announced in the journal Science on Dec. 23. Hibbing is one of 539 new members being honored for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. He will be recognized at the AAAS Fellows Forum on Feb. 18 in Vancouver.

Hibbing, a Foundation Regents University Professor of political science at UNL, is singled out for inclusion in the fellows for "distinguished contributions in the application of biological knowledge and methodological techniques to the study of politics, through both original research and encouragement of others."

Hibbing has earned the attention of scientists as well as the national media for his cutting-edge research into the role of biology in shaping people's political temperaments. A groundbreaking article he coauthored in 2008, "Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits," was featured in the top science journal, Science. In that article he documented how people's physical sensitivities to things like sudden noises or threatening visual images was a predictor of variations in political beliefs.

He and other researchers in his lab, notably Kevin Smith, also use "gaze-cuing," emotion-discrimination exercises, eye-tracking, brain imaging using electroencephalogram and functional MRI testing, twin studies, and endocrinology. He co-authored a recent article for the Journal of Politics on the politics of "mate choice" and is currently studying how cortisol levels affect individuals' involvement in politics.

This research into biological characteristics and their relationship to political orientation and behavior is earning international attention -- and the interest of a growing number of young, emerging political scientists who are intrigued by the exploration of the biological basis of social behavior. That's exciting to Hibbing and his research group.

Most of the AAAS fellows are from the hard sciences – with relatively few in the social sciences, including economics, sociology, and political science.

"While political scientists are typically called upon to comment on isolated, recent political events, the case is now building that politics can also be approached from a broader, more scientific angle, including examination of the biological correlates of political beliefs and behaviors." Hibbing also has a courtesy appointment in the department of psychology.

It is a tremendous honor that such an elite organization has recognized Hibbing's contributions, said David Manderscheid, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
"It is wonderful to see John earn this richly deserved award. It is especially gratifying since few political scientists have been named fellows and because John works in an area of research that is just beginning to be fully appreciated," he said.

Manderscheid added that the award also highlights the cutting-edge research being done in the political science department and the social sciences, more generally, at UNL.

Hibbing said there are no political scientists from the Big 12 on the current list of AAAS Fellows, and only three or four other political scientists from the Big Ten.

"I'm excited and pleased," Hibbing said. "I know we're supposed to be cool about such things but it's really great to see UNL receive recognition for one of its many interdisciplinary initiatives. The commendation specifically recognizes that we are encouraging and leading others in this new area of scientific research, and that is immensely satisfying.

"When I give talks around the country, I am often approached by young researchers who are eager to move in the direction we have gone, but they're nervous because of the novelty of this area of research. That's a shame since these are the very people the movement needs. So any indication that this is a legitimate area of research will help to diminish the reluctance of young scholars to enter this area of research."

Hibbing joined the UNL faculty as an assistant professor in 1981 and was promoted to associate professor in 1985, professor in 1990, and was named a Foundation Regents University Professor in 2001. He earned his bachelor's degree from Dana College in Blair, and his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa. In addition to his research and writing on biology and social behavior, he has taught courses and written books and articles on American politics, legislative politics and public opinion.

"There are many others at UNL who deserve to be AAAS Fellows but aren’t yet," Hibbing said. "I know I wouldn't have done it without the encouragement and support of my administration and my colleagues. I'm very grateful."

Nomination for consideration as a fellow requires recommendation by one of 24 section-based steering groups, or three current AAAS fellows who are not from the nominee's home institution or by the AAAS chief executive. Final inclusion is up to the AAAS Council. The tradition of AAAS Fellows began in 1874.

- Kelly Bartling, University Communications