Sunday, November 11, 2007

As you know, in my former life, I was a science geek.

Now I'm just an amateur, a reader of fascinating news about fascinating advances, which has mostly meant, in recent years, brain science. Most people are not aware of the extent to which the brain is not only becoming known, but the extent to which that knowledge is being used, in practical fashion, by marketers, advertisers, PR firms, advocacy groups, and politicians, the better to manipulate you, my dear.

I'm sure you know my namesake amygdala has long been associated with fear. Perhaps you caught the MoveOn hosted Al Gore speech a few years ago where he explained how quick-cuts in television programming are designed to activate a universal fear reaction -- to basically scare you into continuing to pay attention to the schlock. Did you know that the makers of the SkyMall catalog have tested their wares on subjects whose brains are continuously scanned to determine which ad invokes an involuntary pleasure/reward response?

In short, it's the best science reading going. In today's New York Times, a team of seven brainiacs scanned the brains of 20 people who said they were open to voting for a Democrat or a Republican in next year's election. Some of the results (read it all by clicking ici):

4. The gender gap may be closing. In recent presidential elections, Democrats have done better with female voters, while Republicans have appealed more to men. So far this time, male swing voters seem to be looking more closely at the Democrats. After viewing all the candidate videos, our male subjects, when viewing still photos of the Democrats, showed significantly higher activity in the medial orbital prefrontal cortex, an area that is activated by rewarding stimuli, than they did while looking at pictures of the Republicans. Women did not display such a one-party skew, but rather tended to react to individual candidates. So the traditional gender pattern of party preference may not be as prominent this year, particularly among men, and that may be good news for Democrats.

5. Mitt Romney shows potential. Of all the candidates' speech excerpts, Mr. Romney's sparked the greatest amount of brain activity, especially among the men we observed. His still photos prompted a significant amount of activity in the amygdala, indicating voter anxiety, but when the subjects saw him and heard his video, their anxiety died down. Perhaps voters will become more comfortable with Mr. Romney as they see more of him.

7. John Edwards has promise -- and a problem. When looking at pictures of Mr. Edwards, subjects who had rated him low on the thermometer scale showed activity in the insula, an area associated with disgust and other negative feelings. This suggests that swing voters' negative emotions toward Mr. Edwards can be quite powerful.

The good news for Mr. Edwards is that the swing voters who did not give him low ratings, when looking at still photos of him, showed significant activation in areas of the brain containing mirror neurons -- cells that are activated when people feel empathy. And that suggests these voters feel some connection to him. So Mr. Edwards has a strong effect on swing voters -- both those who like him and those who don't.

How's your brain today?

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