Emory Study: Left/Right Equally Brain-Damaged

political ad braindeadA new study by Emory University scientists has unveiled the make-up of the political brain (semi-via Sploid). As it turns out, ignoring reality is actually a rush “similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix.” Conducted in the run-up to the 2004 election, researchers monitored the brain activity of hardcore partisans as they were asked to consider information that could prove harmful to their candidate:

“We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” says Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory who led the study. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.”

“None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged,” says Westen. “Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones.”

Summary: both Democrats and Republicans (and I’d venture to say some Libertarians and other third party partisans) ignore facts that don’t jibe with their world-view and focus only on snippets that can be used to reinforce their views. Surprising? Not really considering political strategists from both major parties continue to focus on fear and emotional stress as a tool of voter coercion.

[image credit: editorial cartoon from USNews]

Update: NYT is also covering this — “Liberals and conservatives can become equally bug-eyed and irrational when talking politics, especially when they are on the defensive.” (via Marginal Revolution)

13 Comments
  1. It’s interesting that they only scanned men. Considering women are quite different in their inate emotional response, I wonder if they would react the same way? Maybe worse?

  2. Did anyone see John Stewart last night? Wish I could get a transcript. He had on Fred Barnes, author of “Rebel in Chief” (and co-host of The Beltway Boys on the Fox News Channel). The whole partisan issue came up, and Stewart actually called him out on the labels that are continually used (liberal/conservative…Democrat/Republican) that shortchange actual debate. He sidestepped this by boldy saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Well, we really only have 2 parties…”. No mention of libertarians, greens, etc. Does anyone not see this as the biggest hurdle we need to overcome, name recognition? Can we not get on John Stewart, CSPAN? Do we need a friggin’ book to talk about to make an appearance on one of these shows?

    It bugs the hell out of me that people only think there are 2 choices in Washington. The D’s and R’s perpetuate this idea by flat out ignoring any other competition, while pro-actively instituting barriers against 3rd parties behind the scenes.

  3. Do we need to start a libertarian “streaking tour” to get the attention of the apathetic public?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streaking

    Being that I work for the state of FL, giving IT support to judges and JAs, I doubt I could partake in my own lovely suggestion. Hey Free Staters…*tap tap*…what’d ya think? Burning SS cards and giving out “illegal” haircuts is small potatoes. Start the streaking tour! :o)

  4. Maybe HoT can “challenge” the Daily Show or other news and entertainment programs to host third party perspectives. Considering the numbers HoT is getting now I’m sure if everyone wrote in at once, that would get their attention!

    Maybe we can send thousands of nude photos in… Virtual streaking! :D

  5. Where’s our “Sam Harris” to stir the political pot?

    VanDyke, do you know anything about this guy? He appeared on CSPAN’s booktv back in Nov. of last year talking about his book “End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason”, and it re-aired this past week (CSPAN’s booktv search seems to be broken). I caught his whole presentation and was blown away. Watch this particular clip from his site, and tell me you don’t envision the same sort of forum, the same sort of urgency given to the subject of political competition and/or libertarian ideas.

    http://www.samharris.org/appearances/ideacity-06242005.wmv

    Also, in the Q&A session of his CSPAN appearance, someone had asked what he thought of libertarianism as a political system. He had nothing but positive things to say. Infidelguy.com has this video but you have to be a paid member of the site.

  6. Let’s be realistic here, guys… streaking will make people laugh, maybe, but it won’t get us considered as a legitimate political party/school of political thought. It’ll only continue our marginalization. The only thing worse than nobody knowing WTF “libertarian” means is a lot of people associating “libertarian” with “unelectable crackpots.”

  7. It was more of a joke than anything else Stuart. The frustration of being a libertarian for what, 10 yrs. now, and seeing little progress, has gotten to me.

  8. Get over getting libertarians elected and worry more about shining the light on folks. We need to think like cockroaches. After a nuclear war, the cockroaches will own the earth. So too must libertarians when The State is in meltdown and decline, before it can take hold again.
    The establishment is far too established and willing to do ANYTHING to maintain the status quo. It is ridiculous to beleive that The State will willfully and peacefully cede political power to liberty. Combine that with ample (for now) bread & circuses and you simply have no chance. You see there is massive talk of “something different” and “needed change”, but not a single mention / suggestion of (what is to us, obvious) a solution. Not even in the least. Americans are world class complainers who are unwilling to do the necessary work to affect that change. If that weren’t true, then there would be few obese Americans as simple example. Instead, resources are used for quicky gimmicks in lieu of the needed change

  9. I contacted the people who did the study, and they are sending me the full report. Might make for another interesting blog posting.