This is Your Brain on Politics

Last night I fumed on about closed-minded evolutionists and creationists, neither of which is probably right but both think their position is absolute truth. Maybe science has an explanation for them in their good friends the politicians. today reports on a new study to be released about how politicians think. Researchers from Emory University MRI-scanned politicians’ brains while presenting them information about the “their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election”. The results were surprising, or maybe not, depending on pre-conceptions about politicians. 

Some of the information presented to the test subjects reflected unfavorably on the candidates. Not to worry, reason didn’t get in the way of the politicians’ viewpoints about their favorite presidential candidate.

The news story quotes Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University: “We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning”. Rather, the test subjects’ brains showed activity in emotional and problem-solving areas. “Test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted”, according to

Reasoning portions of the brain didn’t engage, and test subjects’ brains showed satisfaction when reaching their biased opinions, “a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix”. The kicker: “The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making”.

My question: Why does Congress engage in so much debate if the politicians’ minds are already made up? The answer could be in all the deal making that goes on in Washington. I’ve observed that political deals are often more about obtaining objectives than being right or wrong.

Just how biased are these politicians, the so-called leaders that make decisions affecting our lives? LiveScience again quotes Drew, the Emory University researcher: “The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data”.

Disclaimer: I had not heard of until today, and the stories don’t read to me as very scientific. So, as much as I might enjoy dissing the politicians, I also have to question the thoroughness of the reporting, of which quality I am uncertain. As I read the story, I kept thinking how the item could just as easily appear in the Onion. Apparently the story isn’t a fake or humor story. But that doesn’t attest to the reporting’s accuracy, either.

More will be revealed about the study next week, when it is presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual conference. And if’s take is accurate, I’m going to put forth “politician” as a new synonym for terms “closed mind” and “blind justice”.