In 2004, the researchers recruited 30 adult men who described themselves as committed Republicans or Democrats. The men, half of them supporters of President Bush and the other half backers of Senator John Kerry, earned $50 to sit in an M.R.I. machine and consider several statements in quick succession.
The first was a quote attributed to one of the two candidates: either a remark by Mr. Bush in support of Kenneth L. Lay, the former Enron chief, before he was indicted, or a statement by Mr. Kerry that Social Security should be overhauled. Moments later, the participants read a remark that showed the candidate reversing his position. The quotes were doctored for maximum effect but presented as factual.
The Republicans in the study judged Mr. Kerry as harshly as the Democrats judged Mr. Bush. But each group let its own candidate off the hook.
After the participants read the contradictory comment, the researchers measured increased activity in several areas of the brain. They included a region involved in regulating negative emotions and another called the cingulate, which activates when the brain makes judgments about forgiveness, among other things. Also, a spike appeared in several areas known to be active when people feel relieved or rewarded. The “cold reasoning” regions of the cortex were relatively quiet.
…It is possible to override these biases, Dr. Westen said, “but you have to engage in ruthless self reflection, to say, ‘All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest.’ “
…That might be a lot of excerpting. I plead insanity.
This story suggests dozens of interesting angles, and that includes the pog-worthy fad for weakly-supported fMRI studies. I’ll focus on just one. It makes a bit more sense why people swarm to outlets of mean-spirited political humor, quality examples of which include
Goldstein and Tbogg Brad at Sadly, No!, and why red meat-dishing sites in general dominate the internet. We’re rats pushing the morphine lever.
It goes without saying that this isn’t news to anybody in the political consulting class, who’ve been appealing to their supporters’ unconscious prejudices since pretty much ever.
By popular demand I’ll let purveyors of mean-spirited political humor nominate themselves.