Researchers hooked up the brains of staunch Democrats and Republicans to brain-scanning devices and asked the partisans to examine contradictions made by political candidates. Here’s what they found, according to a report on MSNBC:
We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. “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.”The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.
Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.
The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.
“None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged,” Westen said. “Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones.”
The cycle formerly known as partisan “reasoning”: ignore the contradiction, get disgusted, rationalize away the feeling of disgust, and then bask in the drug-like high one gets from having one’s deepest prejudices confirmed. This explains, in part, why I find most political weblogs on both the left and right so brain-dead that I can’t stand to read them. It’s just a bunch of blah blah blah blah blah blah. I tend to skim them for various impressions of “what’s passing as political ‘reasoning’ these days…”