One wonders whether more modern techniques have been used, such as fMRI. The answer: a little, but not very much, apparently. The following seems to be part of what may be the most noteworthy effort:
Emory Study Lights Up The Political Brain
When it comes to forming opinions and making judgments on hot political issues, partisans of both parties don't let facts get in the way of their decision-making, according to a new Emory University study. The research sheds light on why staunch Democrats and Republicans can hear the same information, but walk away with opposite conclusions.
The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking.
"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."
There probably isn't going to be much disagreement that political appeals in democracies (or most other governmental arrangements) are based a lot more on emotion than on reason and logic. It's hardly a new idea. However, what is intriguing is the possibility that fMRI and similar brain-scanning techniques can eventually reveal, for example, what kinds of emotional appeals work best with different personality types, when (if ever) rational mechanisms in the cortex become involved, and so forth.
Neural Bases of Motivated Reasoning: An fMRI Study of Emotional Constraints on Partisan Political Judgment in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election – abstract of the research paper (sub. rqd. for full access)
Drew Westen – The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation – recent (6/2007) book
Tags: political psychology
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