[extropy-chat] Partisans was Elvis Sightings
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
"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).
"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.'" 
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18:11, pp. 19471958
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.
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