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Obama elevate my soul
December 20, 2008 7:25 AM   Subscribe

How the president-elect tapped into a powerful—and only recently studied—human emotion called "elevation." Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley, studies the emotions of uplift, and he has tried everything from showing subjects vistas of the Grand Canyon to reading them poetry—with little success. But just this week one of his postdocs came in with a great idea: Hook up the subjects, play Barack Obama's victory speech, and record as their autonomic nervous systems go into a swoon....It was while looking through the letters of Thomas Jefferson that Haidt first found a description of elevation. Jefferson wrote of the physical sensation that comes from witnessing goodness in others: It is to "dilate [the] breast and elevate [the] sentiments … and privately covenant to copy the fair example." (via Geek Press)

Since it's tricky to study the vagus nerve, he and a psychology student conceived of a way to look at it indirectly. The vagus nerve works with oxytocin, the hormone of connection. Since oxytocin is released during breast-feeding, he and the student brought in 42 lactating women and had them watch either an inspiring clip from The Oprah Winfrey Show about a gang member saved from a life of violence by a teacher or an amusing bit from a Jerry Seinfeld routine.

About half the Oprah-watching mothers either leaked milk into nursing pads or nursed their babies following the viewing; none of the Seinfeld watchers felt enough breast dilation to wet a pad, and fewer than 15 percent of them nursed. You could say elevation is Oprah's opiate of the masses, so it's fitting that she early on gave Obama her imprimatur.
posted by caddis (50 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Like I said.
posted by gman at 7:39 AM on December 20, 2008


Obama dilate my breasts.
posted by Esoquo at 7:46 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Obama dilate my breasts.

Is that an order?
posted by gman at 7:56 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm so excited by this that I breast-fed four babies! And I'm a dude!
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:58 AM on December 20, 2008 [8 favorites]


Obama supporting milk-squirting breast fetishists excited?!
posted by fuq at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2008


My stars! And all this time I thought it was a case of the vapors.

I can just imagine republicans running focus groups for their new candidates, where the audience has someone's finger up their ass in order to determine how tight it clenches over any given candidate.

That's right, Democrats are from the Milky Way, Republicans are from Uranus.
posted by furtive at 8:14 AM on December 20, 2008 [19 favorites]


I can just imagine republicans running focus groups for their new candidates, where the audience has someone's finger up their ass in order to determine how tight it clenches over any given candidate.

Wake up. Why do you think they ran Palin?
posted by b1tr0t at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


Democrats are from the Milky Way, Republicans are from Uranus.

This is reminding me of the breast man arc from Achewood.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:39 AM on December 20, 2008


The subjects of this were, I assume, liberal college students?
posted by Class Goat at 8:54 AM on December 20, 2008


"Elevation." Otherwise known as the "Yes We Can" emotion.
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 8:57 AM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


"...and only recently studied..."

In other news, psychologists discover a powerful human emotion called "love."
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:07 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, we already know that Obama only won because he brainwashed the public. Might have even done some waterboarding too.


Gold fringe!
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:19 AM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


The subjects of this were, I assume, liberal college students?

Yes, they must have been. How do those sour grapes taste?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:24 AM on December 20, 2008 [8 favorites]


The subjects of this were, I assume, liberal college students?

Well, see, that's the thing—there weren't really any subjects because there wasn't a study about Obama. Although the first paragraph says "hook up the subjects, play Barack Obama's victory speech, and record as their autonomic nervous systems go into a swoon," the article gives no indication that they ever followed through with that.

Instead, there was a study about Oprah, and then the guy basically says "hey, this would also work with Obama, just trust me on this one." Feh.
posted by decagon at 9:31 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


A star
Lit up like a cigar
Strung out like a guitar
Maybe you can educate my mind

Explain all these controls
Can't sing but I've got soul
The goal is elevation

A mole
Digging in a hole
Digging up my soul now
Going down, excavation

I and eye in the sky
You make me feel like I can fly
So high
Elevation

Love
Lift me up from out of these blues
Won't you tell me something true
I believe in you
posted by empath at 9:32 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Did Thomas Jefferson really write about something getting his nipples hard? Really?
posted by scalefree at 9:37 AM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


This isn't new, the Democrats are just giddy 'cause it's on their side after 8 long years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:49 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I voted for Obama, but his Jedi mind tricks don't work on me.
posted by RussHy at 9:50 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


So...someone did a study to determine that people like speakers who make them feel good? Man, this is blowing my mind here.

More interesting is why a voter may be more drawn to a charismatic speaker than to a less charismatic speaker who, you know, can speak coherent English, and is more qualified. In this case, the good guy won...but what about other examples? Personally, I don't think either one was (in 2000) a person I'd want to be in the same room with particularly, but was the charm of Bumbling Pretend Hick finally the factor that made his contest with Killer Android from the Future close enough to fix? It sure wasn't that he had anything to say (at least nothing that anyone could understand). The idea that we could be swayed by something about as meaningful as "smells nice" is a little bit disturbing (though not exactly a newsflash).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:50 AM on December 20, 2008


This seems closely related to Obama's understanding of empathy. My favorite excerpt from The Audacity of Hope, reprinted here, concerns his thoughts about the significance of empathy and its development in his life. Here is one bit from the beginning:

We long for that most elusive quality in our leaders---the quality of authenticity, of being who you say you are, of possessing a truthfulness that goes beyond words. My friend the last US Senator PaulSimon had that quality. For most of his career, he baffled with pundits by garnering support from people who disagreed, sometimes vigorously, with his liberal politics. It helped that he looked so trustworthy,like a small town doctor, with his glasses and bow tie and basset-hound face. But people also sensed that he lived out his values; that he was honest, and that he stood up for what he believed in, and perhaps mostof all that he cared about them and what they were going through.

That last aspect of Paul's character--a sense of empathy---is one that I find myself appreciating more and more as I get older. It is at the heart of my moral code, and it is how I understand the GoldenRule---not simply as a call to sympathy or charity, but as something more demanding, a call to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes.


Progressivespirit.com has a nice collection of Obama's other statements about empathy.
posted by inconsequentialist at 9:51 AM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


These aren't the droids you're looking for.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:51 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


...don't go to my head.
posted by obvious at 10:02 AM on December 20, 2008


How the president-elect tapped into a powerful—and only recently studied—human emotion called "elevation."

Discounting the analysis and practise of sublime rhetoric ranging back until at least Longinus of course. You haven't really studied anything until you've made a student lactate in front of a tv.

And I sincerely hope that the ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians were better at it than Barack Obama.
posted by leibniz at 10:12 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


> The vagus nerve works with oxytocin, the hormone of connection.

"Baby, is it me, or am I feeling some oxytocin between us?"

"Yeah, we're in an oxytocin supply closet."

"I mean--I mean... Oh. Nothing."
posted by shadytrees at 10:30 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Next up, the recently discovered phenomenon of "post-elevation syndrome" in which that person who elevated you lets you down, pretty much on a weekly basis...
posted by naju at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure that this is a response to Obama's words as much as it is a feeling of deliverance from 4 more years of Idiocracy.
posted by crapmatic at 10:54 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


The subjects of this were, I assume, liberal college students?

To put some numbers behind Class Goat's broad brush, here's an article.

One tidbit: 16% [of Berkeley students] call themselves some flavor of conservative.

How do those sour grapes taste?

Probably the same as your hubris.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:09 AM on December 20, 2008


I should elaborate.

People keep telling each other that they won. That somehow the Obama election was the end, the finish line, the goal. But Obama is fucked right now, and it took the second coming of the Great Depression AND an unwinnable war AND a fucking moronic Republican candidate to win the election.

The US has one of the dumbest populations in the industrialized world. We have no manufacturing base to speak of. We have the largest national debt in the world, and we're approaching the largest debt/capita (the real measure). We're facing the world financial and economic disaster in 80 years and, at the same time, facing $50-100 trillion in unfunded social liabilities. We have a populace whose income has stagnated for a decade and we're facing the highest unemployment in 30 years (and possibly worse).

You think Obama is going to solve that in 4 years? Or even 8? And guess who'll get the blame for any missteps along the way? Not Bush. Not Republicans. But Obama and his Democratic Congress. The people don't care how we got here. The people care about how we're going to fix it. And there's no way in hell a significant amount of the damage created in the last 20 years will be fixed in 4. So Democrats will get blamed for creating massive deficits. Democrats will be blamed for future job losses. Democrats will be blamed when the federal government realizes that it can't afford universal healthcare. It can't afford fully funded Medicare or Medicaid.

I'm happy that Obama got elected. It was monumental. Historic. A welcome change. But he has the toughest 4 years ahead of him in probably 70 years, and hubris, arrogance, and celebration will be very, very shortlived in this environment.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:26 AM on December 20, 2008 [10 favorites]


The subjects of this were, I assume, liberal college students?

Goddamnit, it's 'librul'. Also, it's the 'Democrat Party' if anyone asks.

Why can't people get this shit right?
posted by trondant at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm happy that Obama got elected. It was monumental. Historic. A welcome change. But he has the toughest 4 years ahead of him in probably 70 years, and hubris, arrogance, and celebration will be very, very shortlived in this environment.

You mean he's not going to just wave a magic wand and make everything better? Heavens to Murgatroid.

You make one little joke at someone's casual dismissal and you end up getting lectured.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:36 AM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Keltner's class on Human Emotions is podcast on OpenCourseWare and is a blast to listen to.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


People keep telling each other that they won. That somehow the Obama election was the end, the finish line, the goal.

Also, who is saying this? "Welp, he's president now, all our problems are over, time to kick back and relax." I think just about everyone who voted for him is aware we're in the midst of two unwinnable wars and a horrifying financial crisis. I've never labored under the delusion that Democrats are going to have a garden stroll through the next four years and all our troubles are now over, nor do I see how you could possibly extrapolate all that from my comment.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:57 AM on December 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


Just as a datapoint on Obama -- liberals may be disappointed right now, but right now my incredibly conservative father, who thought that Obama was the anti-christ 2 months ago now thinks that he's the second coming of Reagan. And he hasn't actually done anything, all symbolism. If he throws symbolic bones to the right while actually governing to the left, I'll be thrilled.
posted by empath at 12:01 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


So...someone did a study to determine that people like speakers who make them feel good? Man, this is blowing my mind here.

No, it's a study that shows that lactating women will leak breast milk (or immediately nurse their babies) after watching an uplifting speech. That's definitely something I didn't know!
posted by delmoi at 12:03 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


(that is, they will leak milk during the speech, or nurse afterward)
posted by delmoi at 12:04 PM on December 20, 2008


The US has one of the dumbest populations in the industrialized world. We have no manufacturing base to speak of. We have the largest national debt in the world

This "no manufacturing base" talk is so idiotic. You can certainly argue that we have a smaller manufacturing base then China or Germany or whatever, but "relatively less" isn't the same thing as "none" According to this U.S. manufacturers had almost half a trillion dollars worth of new orders in October of this year (that's in the middle of the crash)

So apparently half a trillion dollars a month is "nothing" now.

What the fuck ever.
posted by delmoi at 12:10 PM on December 20, 2008


People keep telling each other that they won. That somehow the Obama election was the end, the finish line, the goal.

It's more like "We've dumped the Yugo and bought ourselves an Accord. We've got a long way to go, but at least now we have a chance of actually getting somewhere without falling apart."
posted by eye of newt at 12:13 PM on December 20, 2008 [7 favorites]


delmoi, read a book. Or this paper.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 12:31 PM on December 20, 2008


How do those sour grapes taste?

Probably the same as your hubris.


Feeling good about your candidate winning an election hardly rises to the level of "hubris."
Hubris would be more along the lines of taking a squeaker of a victory to mean you now have godlike powers and a divine right to reshape other nations of the world and bend them to your will with no negative consequences.
posted by longsleeves at 12:46 PM on December 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


I am actually hoping this study will make a difference in the way we approach nursing moms. No wonder it's so hard to try to maintain a nursing relationship when mom has to go pump in the company bathroom! She should be someplace elevating! I just told my newly breastfeeding sister about this and told her to watch more Oprah.
posted by Biblio at 1:25 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Metafiler: End Up Getting Lectured
posted by vibrotronica at 1:34 PM on December 20, 2008


Next up, the recently discovered phenomenon of "post-elevation syndrome" in which that person who elevated you lets you down, pretty much on a weekly basis...

Fortunately, I know a guy who will never do that.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:13 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Metafilter : Elevate to Lactate
posted by liza at 5:19 PM on December 20, 2008


Obamilk
posted by inconsequentialist at 5:21 PM on December 20, 2008


Got Obamilk?
posted by liza at 5:25 PM on December 20, 2008


delmoi, read a book. Or this paper.

Can you explain how a paper that doesn't even contain the word "manufacturing" is evidence that we have "no" manufacturing base? I'm aware of the current account deficit.

Look, I realize all these fancy economic words can get confusing sometimes, but in fact different words actually refer to different things.
posted by delmoi at 11:43 PM on December 20, 2008


Give me help
Give me help
You can... levitate me

Then take off them rings
Off them hose
Levitate me

Higher place
Levitate me

Elevator lady
Elevator lady
Elevator lady
Elevator lady

Lady levitate me
posted by kcds at 5:09 AM on December 21, 2008


Hubris would be more along the lines of taking a squeaker of a victory to mean you now have godlike powers and a divine right to reshape other nations of the world and bend them to your will with no negative consequences.

As in Stephen Hubris Harper, wannabe BDFL of Canada.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:12 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fascinating post caddis, thanks so much. I love learning about elevation. Neuropeptide and oxytocin rushes of joy, exhilaration, empathy, inspiration, hope, vitality. I do think Jonathan Haidt is on to something good with his ideas about thriving and flourishing.

"Powerful moments of elevation sometimes seem to push a mental 'reset button,' wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration."

Yes!
posted by nickyskye at 10:10 PM on December 21, 2008


Roger Ebert feels good
posted by homunculus at 1:58 PM on January 15, 2009


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