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Politics and the Brain


((PKG)) NEUROSCIENCE - POLITICS
((Banner: Politics and the Brain))
((Reporter:
Steve Baragona))
((Camera:
Steve Baragona, Elizabeth Lee))
((Adapted by:
Philip Alexiou))
((Map:
Washington, D.C.))
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))

You start the next run so just get ready again. You’re going to press the button as soon as you read each statement.
((NATS))
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))

My name is Jonas Kaplan. I am a cognitive neuroscientist at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC.
((NATS))
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))

You know, it’s interesting the way these studies work is they take a very long time to plan and to execute. And we first started discussing this study and planning it, the political environment was not really what it is now.
((NATS))
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))

So, we had to find a topic where people would resist changing their minds and where we could present reasonable arguments against people’s beliefs. And politics seemed like a really good way to do that because people have really strong political beliefs about it.
Well, we challenged their beliefs while they were inside the FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) Scanner.
((NATS))
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))

And on a screen we showed them first a statement that we knew they believed in and then after that we showed them a series of five statements that challenged those beliefs. Those challenges could be arguments, they could be evidence and they were all statements that contradict what they believed in. And after we did that, we showed them the original statement again. We asked them, okay, now how strongly do you believe this?
((NATS))
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))

When it asks you how strong your belief is, you’ll press the first two buttons and move the sliders left and right and a third button to lock it in.
((NATS))
Okay.
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))
And that way, we are able to measure the change in their belief that resulted from the arguments that we showed them. And there were basically two main findings to the study. One is that when we compare what was happening when people processed the challenges to their political beliefs and the challenges to their non-political beliefs, we saw that certain brain regions were more active when people processed their political beliefs. The other thing we found is that there is a difference among the people who changed their minds and the people who didn’t change their minds. We found some correlations and those correlations were in parts of the brain that tend to process emotion and feeling. We looked into a brain structure called the amygdala, which is really important for processing emotional stimuli in the environment, particularly threats. And another part of the brain called the insular cortex, which is important for incorporating our feelings into our decision making process.
((NATS))
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))

So this right here in blue…..
What we found is that the people who activated these emotional brain regions more were less likely to change their minds. And for us that really shows the importance of emotion and feeling in processing beliefs.
((NATS))
((Jonas Kaplan, University of Southern California))

When we feel really strongly about something, we are maybe less flexible in changing our minds. Certainly emotion can get in the way of making rational decisions but I think it’s important to remember that emotion is there because it’s one of the strategies that life has developed for protecting us and it’s very good at doing that.
((NATS))

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