You just don't understand

New research shows that Republican and Democrats both block out facts that disrupt their biases.

Published January 25, 2006 7:29PM (EST)

In what may be bad news for the reality-based community, new research from the world of neuroscience suggests that both Democrats and Republicans rely on emotion rather than reason when confronted with facts that should disrupt their political preferences.

As part of a study that will be presented at this weekend's conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, researchers put Democrats and Republicans in an MRI machine and asked them to confront what seemed to be flip-flops by John Kerry and George W. Bush. Brain scans showed that the study participants weren't exactly struggling through the contradictions of their own candidate. "We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," Emory University psychologist Drew Westen tells UPI. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up."

The study's findings may provide an explanation -- but little comfort -- to Democrats like Kerry, who find themselves mystified when sober, fact-based arguments about national security or Iraq don't sway voters who believe in some generalized way that the Republicans are better at keeping America safe. How can you get through to such people? You can't, it seems, unless those who are listening to the message make a conscious effort to hear it. For an individual to override his own biases, Westen tells the New York Times, he has to "engage in ruthless self reflection, to say, 'All right, I know what I want to believe, but I have to be honest.'"

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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