Thursday, April 22, 2004

Brain Politics

Tyler Cowen links to a fascinating article about how the brain reacts to stimuli of a political or ideological nature.
At the start of the session, when they look at photographs of Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry and Ralph Nader, subjects from both parties tend to show emotional reactions to all the candidates, indicated in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with reflexive reactions.

But then, after the Bush campaign commercial is shown, the subjects respond in a partisan fashion when the photographs are shown again. They still respond emotionally to the candidate of their party, but when they see the other party's candidate, there is more activity in the rational part of the brain, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. "It seems as if they're really identifying with their own candidate, whereas when they see the opponent, they're using their rational apparatus to argue against him," Professor Iacoboni said. [emphasis added]
The research is really too preliminary to reach any political conclusions; as Tyler notes, there were only 11 data points. But what the heck – what’s a blog for, if not for throwing out half-baked ideas? Here’s what I’m thinking: this is yet another argument for divided government. When one party controls both the executive and legislative branches, the members of the party respond emotionally to most policy proposals, and nobody with power is thinking rationally about them. With divided government, there will always be someone in power who will think rationally about the other side’s proposals. This is, perhaps, why the Republicans only discover their limited government principles when there’s a Democrat in the White House.

No comments: