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Lawrence D. Do political parties still have a role to play in American elections? Katrin Gischler. Buckley, Jr. Barack Obama and the American Dream. Bernd C. Freak Show - Geoffrey Nunberg. Joseph King Jr. In the final, heated months of the U. We studied the brains of fifteen committed Democrats and fifteen confirmed Republicans. We scanned their brains for activity as they read a series of slides. In other words, our goal was to create a head-to-head conflict between the constraints on belief imposed by reason and evidence data showing that the candidate had done something inconsistent, pandering, dishonest, slimy, or simply bad and the constraints imposed by emotion strong feelings toward the parties and the candidates.
What we hoped to learn was how, in real time, the brain negotiates conflicts between data and desire.
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Although we were in relatively uncharted territory, we came in with some strong hunches, which scientists like to dignify with the label hypotheses. Second, we expected to see activations in a part of the brain heavily involved in regulating emotions. Our hunch was that what passes for reasoning in politics is more often rationalization, motivated by efforts to reason to emotionally satisfying conclusions.
Third, we expected to see a brain in conflict—conflict between what a reasonable person could believe and what a partisan would want to believe.
Thus, we predicted activations in a region known to be involved in monitoring and resolving conflicts. We presented partisans with six sets of statements involving clear inconsistencies by Kerry, six by Bush, and six by politically neutral male figures e. Although many of the statements and quotations were edited or fictionalized, we maximized their believability by embedding them in actual quotes or descriptions of actual events. As partisans lay in the scanner, they viewed a series of slides.
The second slide provided a contradictory statement, also frequently taken from the candidate, which suggested a clear inconsistency that would be threatening to a partisan. Here is one of the contradictions we used to put the squeeze on the brains of partisan supporters of John Kerry:.
follow I share your concerns. I voted in favor of a resolution that would have insisted that economic sanctions be given more time to work. After partisans read the first two slides, which presented them with a clear contradiction, the third slide simply gave them some time to stew on it, asking them to consider whether the two statements were inconsistent. Bush supporters faced similar dilemmas, such as the following:.
Contradiction Slide 2 : Mr. For the politically neutral figures, the inconsistency was also real, but it was not threatening to partisans of one candidate or the other. Thus, it provided a useful comparison.
Our committed Democrats and Republicans were scanned in the run-up to one of the most polarized presidential races in recent history. So how did they respond?
They had no trouble seeing the contradictions for the opposition candidate, rating his inconsistencies close to a 4 on the four-point rating scale. For their own candidate, however, ratings averaged closer to 2, indicating minimal contradiction. Democrats responded to Kerry as Republicans responded to Bush. And as predicted, Democrats and Republicans showed no differences in their response to contradictions for the politically neutral figures. But in this case, we went four for four.
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When confronted with potentially troubling political information, a network of neurons becomes active that produces distress. The brain registers the conflict between data and desire and begins to search for ways to turn off the spigot of unpleasant emotion.
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