In Politics, Emotion Trumps Logic In The Brain
If you missed it, the NYT reported that when it comes to politics, logic just doesn’t do it for the brain, and liberals and conservatives equally go emotive and even irrational when put on the political defensive. Maybe that’s why the “reality based community” always seems to come up short in the media, if emotion drives the public dialogue. A bunch of shouting gets better ratings than a talking heads show with lots of light and no heat? More below the fold.
In this article from the News and Observer quoting the Times, we find that MRI scans indicate that when a favored candidate is criticized, the process goes emotive and unconscious, and “the brain’s pleasure centers flare up when unwelcome information is being rejected.” Most cognition uses rationality to deal with contradictions, but evidently not when politics is involved. The study at Emory indicates that both political affiliations judged the other candidate harshly, but let their own skate by, even when their candidate contradicted their own positions. When they read the contradiction,
… researchers measured increased activity in several areas of the brain: a region involved in regulating negative emotions and another that activates when the brain makes judgments about forgiveness, among other things. Also, a spike appeared in several areas known to be active when people feel relieved or rewarded. The “cold reasoning” regions of the cortex were relatively quiet.
Researchers have long known that political decisions are strongly influenced by unconscious emotional reactions. But the new research suggests that for partisans, political thinking is often predominantly emotional.
It is possible to override these biases, 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.’”
This may be one of the best scientific arguments for a third party that we’ll ever have. That way we couldn’t flip into automatic unconscious binary polarization.
Not just political thought
Submitted by m on Tue, 02/21/2006 – 12:53pm.
Deep seated life views are the basis for our opinions, perceptions and judgments. Logic and reason are used to justify the results and consequences of the lower based reactions, not to create new results.
That such emotional and reflexive reactions make up the overwhelming majority of our choices and opinions is proved daily by the efficacy of marketing processes. And more strikingly by political history, wherein great masses of individuals have been persuaded to sacrifice, suffer and even die for movements that were completely antithetical to their immediate or larger interests.
Those properly trained in the hard sciences know full well how difficult it is to divorce one self from conscious or unconscious preconceived ideas or “desired” outcomes in project design, making observations, selecting data or applicable analytical tests, and of course in interpretation. I use the hard sciences as an example, not to diminish any other area of endeavor, but only because these areas provide the simplest, easiest, and possibly least such influenced areas of study.
The process of changing the inner core is not an easy one. “I wasn’t raised that way” is more often a justification for not thinking, than it is for ethical behavior. Such changes are a major goal of institutions of higher education. Often to the dismay of the parents of the student.
Simply perceiving issues in ones own character or personality is one of great difficulty. Changing acquired habits is beyond the reach of large segments of the population. Intentionally modifying inner core values is ferociously difficult. This probably has strong survival value, even though it contravenes our preferred view of ourselves.
“Re-examine all that you have been told . . . dismiss that which insults your soul.”
— Walt Whitman
When all think alike, then no one is thinking.”
— Walter Lippman
“The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.”
H. L. Mencken