Why political discussions are so stupid

A shocking new study reveals that people don’t process political information with their rational brains, but with their hysterical emotions:

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.”

Notably absent were any increases in activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most associated with reasoning.

The tests involved pairs of statements by the candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, that clearly contradicted each other. The test subjects were asked to consider and rate the discrepancy. Then they were presented with another statement that might explain away the contradiction. The scenario was repeated several times for each candidate.

The brain imaging revealed a consistent pattern. Both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate.

“The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data,” Westen said.


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3 Responses to Why political discussions are so stupid

  1. Pretty good physiological evidence against arguing with partisans. Kind of like trying to argue with a drug addict about the harmfulness of their addiction.

  2. Richard says:

    Yup. And it kind of explains why political reporting is so superficial. If people are going to respond strictly to symbolism, there’s no point in going into the kind of detail that would actually distinguish the issues.

  3. ggg says:

    How can you say that you fool.

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