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January 24, 2006 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Political thinking isn't really 'thinking'. Neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them. The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected. Via Slate. This jives with past research about the difference between democrat’s and republican’s brains.
posted by ND¢ (50 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know why, but I felt deeply embarrassed while reading this.
posted by dougunderscorenelso at 11:09 AM on January 24, 2006


Jibes.

(Sorry.)
posted by TonyRobots at 11:09 AM on January 24, 2006


Finally, my inability to take pleasure in anything comes in handy.
posted by orthogonality at 11:10 AM on January 24, 2006


That's awesomely funny and sad.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:10 AM on January 24, 2006


that's awesome. just plain awesome. now maybe someone will understand why i hate bipartisanship and refuse to take a party.
posted by Doorstop at 11:12 AM on January 24, 2006


i wonder how related this is to the schadenfreude thing?

of course we don't want to experience cognitive dissonance, but some things do get thru and actually cause changes--usually if it hits close to home or is especially egregious.
posted by amberglow at 11:14 AM on January 24, 2006


Doorstop, it's because you're a unique snowflake (just like all the rest of us) ; >
posted by amberglow at 11:15 AM on January 24, 2006


It's not a shock to realize that partisans are more forgiving of their candidate's rhetoric. What would be far more interesting is to see how their brains responded to facts which contradict their worldviews.

For example, pose the self-identified Republicans with the fact that terrorist attacks and abortions and deficits have risen x% since Bush took office. Conversely, expose the Democrats to statistical data on gun control and social programs which contradicts their typical policy positions. Measure the cognitive dissonance.

(For that matter, test all of them with objective facts about voting technology, capital punishment, and the war on drugs. Watch heads asplode.)
posted by edverb at 11:23 AM on January 24, 2006


I'm surprised that all of the participants were male. That seems kind of sketchy as experiment designs go...
posted by agent at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2006


schadenfreaude? maybe, its in a similar part of the brain, and its all about the amygdala. so, inadvertantly, yes it is related. however, i'd say its more psychologically related to schadenfreude - i'd laugh the same if a bully in elementary school slipped and bonked his head on some ice as i would if Bush got his just deserts.

btw, thank you, amberglow. snowflakes are cool.
posted by Doorstop at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2006


Ssssshh I've got this Rep Shit Crack cocaine...try some ..."Stay the course" *orgasm* ahhhhhh ...more more ..."Stay the course ! " *multilevel orgasm* ...ah you bitch, there you go "Jon Kerry is discovered Ghey by Matt Druge" *Bukkake sized orgasm*
posted by elpapacito at 11:29 AM on January 24, 2006


So this is why I want to beat folks with a shovel sometimes. "NAA NAA NAA I'M NOT LISTENING!!!" -- it really is true!
posted by wakko at 11:34 AM on January 24, 2006


Now, lets give the test subjects Brain Parasites! and see what happens!
posted by indifferent at 11:34 AM on January 24, 2006


'I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.' 'I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.' 'Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!' 'Shut up! Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control. Here's Love Connection. Watch this and get fat and stupid. By the way, keep drinking beer, you fucking morons.'"
--Bill Hicks
posted by psmealey at 11:35 AM on January 24, 2006


TonyRobots: thanks, as I was about to snarkily point out the same thing. But may I suggest that the proper format is to include DCKMA.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:38 AM on January 24, 2006


Anyone who corrects my word choice is obviously a jibe turkey.
posted by ND¢ at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2006


insert joke about particularly partisan regular mefi poster here.
posted by ilsa at 11:49 AM on January 24, 2006


Can you mesure cognative dissonance now?
posted by delmoi at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2006


ilsa: You mean all of them?
posted by anomie at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2006


Just this morning I was thinking that, since they have been relying so heavily on terrorism related fear mongering, the GOP's campaign slogan for '06 ought to be "Vote with Your Brainstem"
posted by hwestiii at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2006


This confirms so much of what I already suspect. And if, in fact, it reputes it, well I'M NOT LISTENING! NO! NO! NO!

Whew. That felt great!
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:59 AM on January 24, 2006


agent - In these studies they usually use just one sex to control for differences between the sexes in brain activity.

This study us pretty useless, all it shows is that partisan issues cause a strong emotional response in partisans. It's also not necessarily happening unconsciously, just because something isn't processed in the frontal lobes dosn't mean it is unconcious.

It seems like the NY times will report on any FMRI study, no matter how mundane, but the fact is the FMRI is vastly overrated as a research tool.
posted by afu at 12:03 PM on January 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


Not revealed in the study: they discovered all this just by reading this site for the last four and a half years.
posted by briank at 12:11 PM on January 24, 2006


Funny: I always thought all voters made well reasoned and non-emotional decisions.
posted by b_thinky at 12:14 PM on January 24, 2006


Not revealed in the study: they discovered all this just by reading this site for the last four and a half years.

Exactly. Like: dios's comments when he's in a political thread vs. a legal thread. Or Rothko's when he's in an abortion thread vs any other thread.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:24 PM on January 24, 2006


I hope this can be 'reprogrammed', given sufficient self-discipline.
posted by ori at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2006


HOWEVER! This study does seem to be a tool to detect partisanship. How about we pass everyone in the media through there and see who's really Fair and Balanced after all?
posted by JWright at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2006


Ok I see this as the number two item at slate, but #1 also fits with a drug blocking unwanted fat. Both result in "Anal Leakage"
posted by jeblis at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2006


Funny: I always thought all voters made well reasoned and non-emotional decisions.

Did you think that, or did you feel it?
posted by ori at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2006


Here's another thought. Doesn't this also offer proof that any partisan politician (i.e. all of them) is physically incapable of rational thought, and is therefore incapable of honestly performing their duties?

We should demand all future debates be held in MRI machines!
posted by JWright at 12:31 PM on January 24, 2006


"I see by your chart that you are incapable of differentiating between right and wrong. Welcome to the firm!"
posted by Balisong at 12:44 PM on January 24, 2006


I hope this can be 'reprogrammed', given sufficient self-discipline.
posted by ori at 3:26 PM EST on January 24 [!]

From the second to last paragraph in the article:

It is possible to override these biases, Dr. Westen said, "but you have to engage in ruthless self reflection, to say, 'All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest.' "

Anybody up for some ruthless self reflection? I would be, but all my political beliefs are firmly grounded in my cortex not my cingulate. I can just tell.
posted by ND¢ at 12:45 PM on January 24, 2006


So this explains ParisParamus and dios?
posted by Dukebloo at 12:57 PM on January 24, 2006


"This is a story of the corruption of medical research," warned Gary Ruskin, who runs a nonprofit organization called Commercial Alert in Portland, Oregon. "It's a technology that should be used to ease human suffering, not make political propaganda more effective."

Why not? If you're going to do something, do it well, my pappa always said. And the more effective political propaganda is, the less time we'll have to waste debating effective policies!
posted by namespan at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2006


I refuse to believe that whatever comes out of Pat Robertson's mouth is anything but pure concentrated reason.
posted by dgaicun at 1:02 PM on January 24, 2006


Or Rothko's when he's in an abortion thread vs any other thread.

Perhaps we can get you hooked up to an NMR machine, to find out what part of your ass you used to pull that out.
posted by Rothko at 1:06 PM on January 24, 2006


I'm sorry, what a hypocrite I am; obviously my own reaction to that video was an illogical chemical reaction and should be dismissed as much. By all means, don't let my neurons interfere in the crusade against da' homoze.
posted by dgaicun at 1:06 PM on January 24, 2006


Commie propaganda pure and simple.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:07 PM on January 24, 2006


MetaFilter: Anybody up for some ruthless self reflection?

Also:

So this explains ParisParamus and dios?

And a whole lot of the rest of us.

Although I'm fairly certain I engage in "ruthless self reflection", I am probably wrong about this.
posted by davejay at 1:26 PM on January 24, 2006


*masturbates furiously while browsing Free Republic, orgasms while calling for invasion of Iran*
posted by orthogonality at 1:30 PM on January 24, 2006


I don't know why, but for some reason I just can't accept the validity of this study. I mean, I guess it seems okay, but it just gets to me somehow and I don't know why.
posted by shmegegge at 1:36 PM on January 24, 2006


ose the self-identified Republicans with the fact that terrorist attacks and abortions and deficits have risen x% since Bush took office.

Conversely, expose the Democrats to statistical data on gun control and social programs which contradicts their typical policy positions


Heh, I like how you were all specific about loony-tunes right-wing positions, but had to clutch for straws to counter the left. "Hey! You leftie in the MRI machine! Guns ... er, they, er, cut crime! How you like them apples?"
posted by bonaldi at 1:41 PM on January 24, 2006


Perhaps we can get you hooked up to an NMR machine, to find out what part of your ass you used to pull that out.

Well, technically, I wouldn't use my ass to pull something out of my ass. Unless you mean that I used my ass to pull it out of something else which would require a great deal of anal talent I do not possess.

But seriously, I'm not calling you out or anything -- if you want to know the reason you came to mind, I'll be happy to discuss via email -- in general I like your posts, but in abortion threads, not so much.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:00 PM on January 24, 2006


Voiceover: "All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest."
(fade in to image of candidate looking to capture swing vote)
posted by stevis at 2:45 PM on January 24, 2006


Speaking personally, I know I react differently to the same criticism coming depending on the source. I mean, if Juan Cole, or praktike of American Footprints or Bill Clinton were to suggest that there were sound arguments for invading Iraq, I'll approach the matter intellectually: "Why yes, at the time, there were plausible indicators that Saddam Hussein may have been close to developing functional WMDs." But if Charles Krauthammer or William Safire make the same claim, my gut instict is to rage back: "No you stupid twit! Saddam Hussein was a tin-pot megalomaniac without the resources to threaten us and George W Bush needed to take on someone his own stature!"

I'm not saying I'm incapable of thinking rationally about political matters, just that I do feel the need to keep my own emotions in check. And I'm sure a lot of people consider themselves lucky to be completely free from such emotional biases...
posted by Loudmax at 2:53 PM on January 24, 2006


Ah, Drew Westen, always hungering for the spotlight. Seriously, the man is seriously drawn into any situation where there is a possiblity of a good shouting match. He is also an eloquent writer with a very good head, and a feel for how to spin things. Every time I read one of his papers I find myself agreeing with him, almost against my will.
posted by Shusha at 3:30 PM on January 24, 2006


I agree Loudmax. The key is to disregard the speaker. Non-emotional attachment. Mindfulness of the objective. And adherance to the process of winnowing out the truth.

Like anything it requires practice. But it's good for ya.
Not that I've mastered it.

But one would read Krauthammer, or person one doesn't agree with du jour for the enrichment of the ideas and the change of perspective. It's infinitely preferable to stagnation of the mind.
So, once you know what the problem is - you work to eliminate that which is non-useful.
I'm not preaching here, 'cause I'm lugging around about 10 extra lbs of non-useful stored beer in my gut. At least you know there's an impediment.
Some people honestly believe they have never been wrong in their lives. You gotta wonder how they learned anything.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:57 PM on January 24, 2006


hwestiii: "Just this morning I was thinking that, since they have been relying so heavily on terrorism related fear mongering, the GOP's campaign slogan for '06 ought to be "Vote with Your Brainstem""


So THAT explains the whole Terri Schiavo mess...

D'oh!
posted by symbioid at 5:31 PM on January 24, 2006


This doesn't surprise me in the least- I've caught myself doing this exact thing many times in the past and have to make a conscious effort to react only to what is being spoken, and not how fond I am of who's doing the talking.

I am rarely totally successful.

Can't help it, it's my brain the parasites.
posted by Meredith at 5:46 PM on January 24, 2006


What about non partisan leftists who hate both parties but will default with the Dems because it is more convenient?

In short, how would Noam Chomsky's brain waves fare if the research was done on him? Or Christopher Hitchens! He'd possibly break the machine.
posted by Rashomon at 2:12 PM on January 25, 2006


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