The 2008 presidential election excited many people, including psychologists. Marco Iacobani, Joshua Freedman, and Jonas Kaplan of UCLA published an op-ed article in the New York Times entitled “This Is Your Brain on Politics.” This article was based off of their non-peer reviewed psychology experiment published in 2006 which scanned the brains of Democrats and Republicans in order to determine a connection between party affiliation and neural activity during the 2004 election.
Twenty registered voters, 10 Democrat and 10 Republican, from Los Angeles participated in the original experiment. There were 5 females and 5 males in each group and they were matched for age. The experiment consisted of the participants having their brain scanned while viewing images of George Bush, John Kerry, and Ralph Nader. After the experiment, the participants filled out a “feeling thermometer” where they rated their feelings on each candidate from 1 to 10.
According to the UCLA clan, there were interesting results. For instance, Republicans felt more positive after viewing George Bush than Democrats did. Another big surprise showed that Democrats felt more positive after viewing Kerry’s face than Republicans.
In anticipation of the 2008 election, the scientists did their experiment again with swing voters. More interestingly, they “found” that when they showed the participants the words “Republican,” “Democrat,” and “Independent,” the amyglada, which relates to anxiety, lit up. Mit Romney also seemed to excite some nerves among the participants. John Edwards had a problem- he caused peoples’ insulas to light up which means that they were downright disgusted. The group couldn’t make up their mind when they saw Hillary Clinton. Their anterior cingulate cortex’s, which aid in decision-making, were aflame.
Sometimes my mom used to reprimand me because I would only hear what I wanted to hear. If she said she would take me shopping, it didn’t mean that she would take me right then. Now, I know what she meant. Obviously, these psychologist’s mothers forgot to tell them that they need to pay attention to everything and not just what they want to hear.
The amyglada, which the men claimed related to anxiety, also relates to anger, happiness, or sexual excitement. How do we know that the group got nervous when the saw Romney and not sexually excited? Maybe the swing voters got all heated up to the words “Republican” or “Democrat,” too. Also, John Edwards might have been able to run for presidency again (had he not been involved in the affair and all). People might not have been disgusted when the saw his face; the insular cortex also relates to happiness, among other things. And Hillary may actually have been getting some sympathy from the participants as the ACC relates to that as well as reward-anticipation.
Also, using a feeling thermometer brings in other problems. Participants rated candidates from 1, “very unfavorable,” to 10, “very favorable.” It has been shown that feeling thermometers are very problematic in polls. If someone has no opinion on the candidate they get confused as to where to place him on the scale. Would the candidate be a “1” or a “5?” It has also been shown that more often than not, people will rate subjects on certain increments like multiples of 2 or 5. For instance, if there was a feeling thermometer from 1 to 100, a person would be more likely to rate a subject as a 45 than as a 47.
Basically, this study teaches us nothing. Or perhaps that if we ever become New York Times worthy psychologists, we better get our stuff reviewed by our peers- before we publish it nationwide.