About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The partisan brain
Western conducted his study during the 2004 Presidential campaign. He selected a group of committed Republicans and Democrats, and presented them with a series of statements by candidates Bush and Kerry – all while monitoring their brains inside an MRI machine. The statements in question came in pairs, with the second pair contradicting the first one, simulating a classic case of “flip-flopping.”
Not surprisingly, both Democrats and Republicans judged the opposing candidate very harshly for being inconsistent, but were lenient, or not bothered at all, by the inconsistencies of their own candidate. What was interesting, however, emerged from the brain scans: there was very high activity in regions of the brain regulating negative emotions (when reacting to the opposing candidate) and stimulating forgiveness (when considering the favorite man’s position), but very little going on in those regions usually in charge of rational reasoning!
Of course, this doesn’t mean that political partisans cannot think rationally, or even change their mind, from time to time. But it does clearly show that emotional reactions are the first ones to emerge, overriding the rational circuits. That is why it takes training in critical thinking, and quite a bit of self-restrain, to be able to take a deep breadth, count until ten, and force oneself to really look at whatever claim or situation by using our cortex’s reasoning ability. Back to the brain gym for some much needed exercise, everybody!