Sunday, November 11, 2007

Your brain on politics 

A group of neuroscientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to map the brain responses of swing voters as they looked at images and videos of the presidential candidates. Interesting stuff. But some of the responses were not in the least bit surprising:

When looking at pictures of Mr. Edwards, subjects who had rated him low on the thermometer scale showed activity in the insula, an area associated with disgust and other negative feelings. This suggests that swing voters’ negative emotions toward Mr. Edwards can be quite powerful.

I don't think we needed functional MRI to know that.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 11, 08:53:00 AM:

Life imitates the movies:

"When looking at pictures of Mr. Edwards, subjects who had rated him low on the thermometer scale showed activity in the insula, an area associated with disgust and other negative feelings." - article on scanner technology reading the brain

"Based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report is about a cop in the future working in a division of the police department that arrests killers before they commit the crimes courtesy of some future viewing technology." - review of 'Minority Report'  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 11, 02:51:00 PM:

I read the whole thing, and I couldn't escape the whiff of bullshit.

This is another one of those studies where they study knee-jerk reactions. They can't possibly hope to assess people's reason over time, or measure how events or arguments could change their mental circuitry.

The initial observations themselves are kind of interesting, but an assumption that neuroscience is destiny is just the sort of psychobabble the Times loves to run, and not just on Sundays.  

By Blogger Ray, at Sun Nov 11, 03:13:00 PM:


Neurobiology is not destiny. But it is developing into the science of measuring things we've always felt, but not had solid concepts for. We didn't know before whether one voter's digust was the same as another voter's disgust :) Now, we do. Sorta.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 12, 12:12:00 AM:


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 12, 07:00:00 PM:

Ray -- see this takedown of the NYT story from Wired.

They may be scientists, but they sure aren't political scientists (not that I necessarily hold a lot of respect for college poli sci profs, but that's neither here nor there).  

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