[extropy-chat] Partisans was Elvis Sightings

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Wed Jan 31 15:21:29 UTC 2007

At 08:26 AM 1/31/2007 -0500, Ben wrote:


>I find your comments uninteresting in terms of their intellectual
>content, but quite fascinating  sociologically.

I think I have mentioned it before, but some really interesting work was 
done in this area by Drew Westen (Also famous for "Oy, to be a Goy on 

 From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drew_Westen#Political_bias_study which I 
just updated:

"In January 2006 a group of scientists led by Drew Westen announced at the 
annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in Palm 
Springs, California the results of a study in which functional magnetic 
resonance imaging showed that self-described Democrats and Republicans 
responded to negative remarks about their political candidate of choice in 
systematically biased ways.

"Specifically, when Republican test subjects were shown self-contradictory 
quotes by George W. Bush and when Democratic test subjects were shown 
self-contradictory quotes by John Kerry, both groups tended to explain away 
the apparent contradictions in a manner biased to favor their candidate of 
choice. Similarly, areas of the brain responsible for reasoning (presumably 
the prefrontal cortex) did not respond during these conclusions while areas 
of the brain controlling emotions (presumably the amygdala and/or cingulate 
gyrus) showed increased activity as compared to the subject's responses to 
politically neutral statements associated with politically neutral people 
(such as Tom Hanks).[2]

"Subjects were then presented with information that exonerated their 
candidate of choice. When this occurred, areas of the brain involved in 
reward processing (presumably the orbitofrontal cortex and/or 
striatum/nucleus accumbens) showed increased activity.

"As Dr. Westen said, "None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning 
were particularly engaged... Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl 
the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want... 
Everyone... may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a 
vested interest in how to interpret 'the facts.'" [3]

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18:11, pp. 1947–1958

While this is really interesting the deeper question of why people hold 
tight to partisan beliefs is not widely understood.  And they hold them not 
just about religions, but a wide variety of beliefs, including science 
ones.  I remember with near horror a time when a very senior scientist (not 
in geology) went off on a disjointed emotional rant that was scary to 
behold. (He was shaking with rage.) I was reading *his* copy of
_Scientific American_ at his house and made some innocent comment about an 
article on plate tectonics.  Clark's "BULLSHIT" doesn't compare, though 
perhaps that's the effect of a text only channel.

I made a post about this on the memetics list which never drew any 
comment.  I will repost it here if there is interest.

Keith Henson

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