Sunday, February 19, 2006

Political Bias

Commenting in my last post, last night, I linked to Daily Kos and Crooks and Liars. It was a bit fascinating to see them quote transcript passages that I would have quoted as well. The difference being, that they came away with a complete 180 degree interpretation from it, than I did. I see much the same ideological differences in how we interpret "the facts"- from the 9/11 Commission, to the Duelfer Report, to media bias, to what the President said, to Quailgate, to the good, the bad, and the beautiful (haha..catch my "bias"?) going on over in Iraq; and on and on...

Jaymeister
made a good find and a nice post on the following article:

Political bias affects brain activity, study finds
Democrats and Republicans both adept at ignoring facts, brain scans show


Democrats and Republicans alike are adept at making decisions without letting the facts get in the way, a new study shows.

And they get quite a rush from ignoring information that's contrary to their point of view.

Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects' brains were monitored while they pondered.

The results were announced today.

"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts."

Bias on both sides
The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.

Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.

The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.

"None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," Westen said. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones."

Notably absent were any increases in activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most associated with reasoning.

The tests involved pairs of statements by the candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, that clearly contradicted each other. The test subjects were asked to consider and rate the discrepancy. Then they were presented with another statement that might explain away the contradiction. The scenario was repeated several times for each candidate.

A brain-scan technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, revealed a consistent pattern. Both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate.

"The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data," Westen said.

Other relatively neutral candidates were introduced into the mix, such as the actor Tom Hanks. Importantly, both the Democrats and Republicans reacted to the contradictions of these characters in the same manner.

The findings could prove useful beyond the campaign trail.

"Everyone from executives and judges to scientists and politicians may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret 'the facts,'" Westen said.


I lean center-right. I admit to my partisanship. I am well-aware of times when I have cherry-picked information to support my side of the equation. Sometimes I like to engage in juvenile ad hominems (such as making comments about Helen Thomas being a ripe old fossilized prune, which have nothing to do with her politics and journalistic integrity). It's just fun as well as petty.

But for serious political opining, I think it is important to listen to the other side, and exercise our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; not just resort to knee-jerk "ok, how do I counter the argument put forth against my side?"-sort of reaction. To have credibility, it is vitally important to listen and concede (where necessary); reason and respect. One of the worst disservices you can do for your political side, is to be disingenous, citing facts or statistics that you know to be flawed. When both sides are well-researched on their facts, sometimes it just comes down to a difference in ideology. Then, usually it's a matter of how we interpret the raw data.

We really should exercise extreme vigilance on our own prejudices, partisanship, and bias. I don't think there is anything completely wrong in engaging in partisan politics, so long as you have the conscious wherewithal to know what it is that you are doing. At least be honest with yourself. Honesty and clarity are always more important than being right.

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19 Comments:

Blogger Anna said...

I try, I really do try to listen to the other side, but when, as you said, the basic facts are twisted 180 degrees, it's hard to be unbiased.

I still can't see the whole hunting incident as anything more than an accident. I simply cannot believe that everything was a conspiracy and cover-up. OK, maybe I'm naive...just not cynical enough, I suppose.

Sunday, February 19, 2006 7:42:00 PM  
Blogger Curt said...

I agree Word, and I am most guilty of being partisan. I guess its a natural reaction to the stupidity of the left. I mean to even attempt at portraying the hunting thing as a conspiracy....argh.

But I agree, when you cherry pick facts you definately do a disservice to your argument.

Sunday, February 19, 2006 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I wonder how much federal money was spent in doing that research? I coud have told thenm all that without doing a study. All one has to do is read blogs for a while. The proof is right there.

Personally, I try to be a far right Conservative while trying to maintain intellectual honesty at the same time.

It aint easy, boy!

My recent post about the legality of the BSA survelllance is a good example of what you are saying. Both sides spin the same information. I was pleased, though, that most of the comments were respectful, and I learned some things.

Monday, February 20, 2006 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger Pebble said...

I' cener-right too. It' darn hard being in the middle!
I rally can see the merits on both sides,
But then I hear democrats speak and it just pushes me a bit to the right.

Prior to voting in the last presidential election, I was not sure! I became part of the Kerry forums and Bush forums...
Kerry's forum kicked me out! They didn't like my questions (Nor did they answer them)I asked man tough questions at the Bush site and was not kicked out...

Kerry is behaving very irresponsibly, I'm so glad he didn't win.

We have to bring our soldiers sooner or later, the Iraqi's are gonna have to step up to the plate, and fight for their own democracy.

What country has ever achieved democracy with out fighting for it themselves? None.

Monday, February 20, 2006 1:17:00 AM  
Blogger The Angry American said...

Very good article. I think alot of it is a natural reflex. When it comes to politics no one wants to give the other party an inch. I will admit that Clinton did some good things while in office. But If I'm talking politics with a diehard liberal I will never admit to them I feel that way. I don't think Bush has done everything right since taking office,but he surely isn't the horible person the libs make him out to be. I think it all goes back to a quality we all had as kids...."my dad is bigger then your dad". Now it has become "my president was better then your president" It would be nice if politics would go back in time 25 years where it seemed there was more respect for others opinions, but I don't see it happening any time soon.

Monday, February 20, 2006 1:47:00 AM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

We have to bring our soldiers sooner or later, the Iraqi's are gonna have to step up to the plate, and fight for their own democracy.

PebblePie, you are as if not more informed than I on military matters, and Iraq. It's the focus of your blog. You must know well that Iraqis are stepping up to the plate. They are training hard, and are highly motivated to defend their country and take over.

It takes years to build a strong officer's corps; we have accomplished so much in a rushed, impatient amount of time. We need to get it right, as well as be expedient. We can't cave into political pressures back here at home that will make us leave prematurely, or leave behind a weak infrastructure.

Even in today's NY Times, there is an article on Iraqi special forces.

angry american, I think if we actually want to not shout past one another, and make the other side take pause and reason, rather than knee-jerk pre-made responses, we just have to tone it down, and give and take in our dialogue.

Sometimes, though, I am just in the mood to exchange punches.

Monday, February 20, 2006 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger Pebble said...

Please look at this young man's site,
comments too, scary:
http://spaces.msn.com/noy83/

Monday, February 20, 2006 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

That Yusuf Islam song is kinda catchy! Um...nice links. Some mujahadeen-wannabes commenting....

Interesting background he has....what's with the vanity slideshow?....yup...wiretap his ass! Hehe....

He's probably harmless, but horribly misguided. He says George Bush declared "all-out war on Islam". Wonder what playbook he got that bit of unreality from? This President has gone out of his way to say good things about Islam and Muslims.

Anything That I say correct is only from Allah. Anything that I say that is incorrect, is only from me.

Sounds like he's full of a lot of incorrect beliefs; so either his God is full of it, or he is.

How'd you find this one out of many, PebblePie?

Monday, February 20, 2006 2:56:00 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

Just stopping by to 'tag' you! Check it out over at my blog.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 7:47:00 AM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Aaah....you're killing me! Since I run a poli blog, I'll respond in here:


Four jobs I've had - in no particular order.
pizza delivery
loss prevention specialist
personal trainer
gymnastics instructor


Four movies I can watch over and over
Casablanca
The Lord of the Rings
Camelot (a stage version I have- hate the movie!)
Um...you said four?

Four places I've lived
Phoenix, Arizona
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Dayton Ohio,
Osan, Korea
Just four?!?

Four TV shows I love
Battlestar Galactica new series
Space: Above and Beyond
Brimstone
Millennium (3rd season)

Four places I've Vacationed
Vacation?!?

Four of my favorite foods
Krafts mac and cheese
Seafood
Japanese
Italian

Four Blogs I visit daily
Flopping Aces
My own
Hugh Hewitt
4 Rows Back in the Bleachers

Four places I'd rather be right now
In the arms of my Dulcinea
curled up with hot cocoa and a good book
comfortable in my own skin
home is where the heart is

I'm not big on meme tags, but I am honored you chose me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Dayton Ohio? Mac and cheese?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

So that's what they are doing with the tag thing! Hmmmmm. If I get tagged I'll have to come back to this post in order to remember what it is I'm supposed to do! :)

Re: your very thoughtful post: As you know, I am conservative all the way. As you may not know, I was once a Democrat. (I know... but it's the truth.) I was a Democrat from 1958 until 1970 something. The party started changing then. I was a Democrat of John F. Kennedy's era. When the party began to change my husband and I took a good, hard and long look at what the party was turning into. Vietnamn was part of the reason.

Now we have all this "hate Bush" stuff going on, and it does turn me off. I have received so many insults because I'm a Republican I can't even believe it. So I am probably guilty of what you suggest: Partison politics. I don't make any apologies for that. I'm fighting for what I see as our very way of life here.

I do think, if a democrat or a liberal came into my blog, or yours, and would make one truly "reasonable" comment, I would give it some thought. Problem is, I don't think I've seen that particular phenomenon yet. :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 7:13:00 PM  
Blogger Nightcrawler said...

Great post wordsmith! I agree with most of the commenters here. I try to maintain a balance in my politics and make decisions based on logic rather than emotion. It isn't easy. I'll give you some examples:

Abortion: My limited government side calls me to demand that government stay out of the issue. My ethical side tells me that it is murder and therefore, must be made illegal. My emotional side tends to side with my ethical side. My logical side finds no support for abortion in the constitution but neither does it find any ban on it.

Answer: Leave it to the states.

Drugs: Again, limited government says that it's none of the government's business. Ethical side says drugs hurt people and destroy families. Emotional side says drugs are evil and should be destroyed immediately. Logical says that people have (or should have) the right to decide what to subject themselves to.

Answer: Leave it to the states.

(notice a theme here?)

I have many views that I'm not comfortable with but I try to be consistent. My personal comfort is NOT an issue when I'm considering politics. My priorities are thus:

1. Will they defend my country?
2. Will they protect my freedoms?
3. Will they allow the people to prosper?

If they pass that test, they're golden in my book. If they don't, I don't even give them a second look.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 12:14:00 AM  
Blogger The Angry American said...

This is such a great post wordsmith. I'm sure the comments could go on forever. I know for myself It's really hard to bite my tongue when it comes to arguing with libs. My dad voted republican for many years, but now the libs have scared him so much he voted for Kerry in the last election.,and my mom has generally been a democrat as long as I can remember. So I can respect their opinion, and try my best to walk away when I start getting mad,and may say something I reget.I also do my best to not talk politics to much at work. And I'm very lucky due to the fact I'm a fairly opposing looking figure that I don't have to worry about insults from libs when they see a "W" sticker in my car window. But I know lots of other people who have been flipped off for having one. It's a sad state of this country that one can be persecuted for their political beliefs. The political scene has surely changed over the past 20 years, and my biggest fear is it will only get worse.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 12:39:00 AM  
Blogger Little Miss Chatterbox said...

Some good points. I completely agree with you Wordsmith. I think Mark said it well in that I am an admitted conservative but I try to be intellectually honest.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 9:09:00 AM  
Blogger Little Miss Chatterbox said...

Also, how objective were the people doing this study??? Just a thought.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 9:10:00 AM  
Blogger Mike's America said...

" Helen Thomas being a ripe old fossilized prune" Isn't an attack. Just an accurate description.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 8:09:00 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Great article, WS, and great comments from everyone.

I think it's unfortunate when one gives one's allegiance to a group or political party rather than to the truth.

I try to analyze issues with an open mind, but I'd be lying if I said my personal biases didn't color my opinions.

Of course, some things are so clearly discernible that they're not open to interpretation -- like Helen Thomas being a fossilized prune. :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

Yep, Helen Thomas is truly a fossilized prune. Truth will out. Now let's see if - in the mood of this post - I can be fair and say one nice thing about Helen Thomas.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.......

Nope! :)

Thursday, February 23, 2006 10:27:00 AM  

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