Prague Twin

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Emotion Trumps Logic

I can't remember where I read it, but recently there was a study done to determine how the brain is affected by information that supports one's opinion and conversely how it reacts to information that contradicts it.

Not surprisingly, the study found that people's brains show lower activity when presented with information that contradicts their opinions. It also found that the brain releases pleasure inducing neurotransmitters when a person argues his or her opinion, or when information that he or she agrees with is presented. High levels of pleasure inducing neurotransmitters are released when a person is in the process of discrediting a contrary view to his or her own.

We have all had the experience: that rush of emotion, a pleasing wave of well-being that laps over us as we tear down our opposition's argument. It feels REALLY good.

A lot of us out there in the blog-o-sphere try to keep an open mind. But this may be actually impossible on a physiological level. Most of us formed our basic opinions long ago, or at the latest in college. I actually don't know anyone who suddenly had a change of heart at say 35 years old and switched parties, but I hear it happens, occasionally.

It makes sense that one should defend his or her opinion, especially if it is arrived at through years of introspection. What bothers me though is that if you consider yourself a liberal, there are a basket of positions on crucial issues that come pre-packaged. A good liberal should be pro-environment, pro-union, pro-choice, anti-big business, pro-education, pro-equal rights, pro-gun control, anti-death penalty, pro-social welfare, pro-universal health, and most of all, anti-Republican.

I don't think I need to reverse this list for the conservatives. Hold it up to a mirror if you have to.

I have always found this inherently strange. Just because I believe in universal health for working people, I'm supposed to be anti-gun control, because obviously I'm a "liberal". My uncle first explained this to me. He spent his life working for the unions, and the Democratic Party. He even helped get some Democrats elected once upon a time by registering voters in predominately black neighborhoods in L.A. when most were afraid to even go there. We were talking about the death-penalty, which at the time I favored. He explained that if I considered myself left-leaning, I should be against it. I have since changed my mind on that issue, but not because of some dogma from the Democratic party or anyone else. (I also used to favor gun control, but have flipped on that issue as well, lest you think it is about dogma for me). The whole idea of a basket of opinions was, and is, repulsive to me.

No matter how someone arrives at their opinion, they all have an emotional attachment to their ideals. I am certainly no exception, so I will say "we". We decide who we agree with based more on emotion than on logic. Then, the process of backing up that emotional response begins (for some). We get the brain to agree with our heart. We start to collect information that informs our opinion, and we reject or analytically discredit that which would damage the arguments that support our opinions. There is usually a moment (or several moments) in one's life where we say, "that's it! My mind is made up!" Rarely do we ever look back.

One of the mechanisms we use to retain our credibility is to pick some trivial event where we agree with the opposition's point of view. Then, for the rest of our lives we can say we are non-biased because we didn't agree with our candidate on such-and-such an issue.

And some of us don't even do that. We consistently cling to the rhetoric of our chosen leaders, refuse to listen to the other side, and remain steadfast in our view that the other side are a bunch of lying, cheating good-for-nothing so-and-sos.

The frightening reality may be that people on both sides of the equation may be right about the other. What if everything the Democrats said was wrong with the Administration was true, and what if everything the right-wing bloggers said about the liberals was true? Well, I don't think so. I least I certainly hope not.

I think it is reasonable to assume that a good portion of the mud-slinging on both sides is disingenuous. I'm sure there are plenty of bad people in government on both sides. But there must be some good ones too, from both sides of the isle. I think it is time that we start looking at individual candidates, from both sides of the isle, that we think are reasonably honest (100% honesty being, of course, pure fiction). Instead of labeling someone a "liberal" or a "right-winger" how about we start electing individual candidates based on their policy, and their record, and not on whether or not they have a "D" or an "R" next to their name?

OK, I'll admit it, I'm a dreamer. The battle has become so entrenched and bitter that few people could see themselves voting for someone of the other party.

But if we don't start looking at politicians as individuals, we might as well start electing tape-recorders.

Sadly, we have already elected a few.


Post a Comment

<< Home