The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation

The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation

Drew Westen

Language: English

Pages: 496

ISBN: 1586485733

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Political Brain is a groundbreaking investigation into the role of emotion in determining the political life of the nation. For two decades Drew Westen, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University, has explored a theory of the mind that differs substantially from the more "dispassionate" notions held by most cognitive psychologists, political scientists, and economists—and Democratic campaign strategists. The idea of the mind as a cool calculator that makes decisions by weighing the evidence bears no relation to how the brain actually works. When political candidates assume voters dispassionately make decisions based on "the issues," they lose. That's why only one Democrat has been re-elected to the presidency since Franklin Roosevelt—and only one Republican has failed in that quest.

In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins. Elections are decided in the marketplace of emotions, a marketplace filled with values, images, analogies, moral sentiments, and moving oratory, in which logic plays only a supporting role. Westen shows, through a whistle-stop journey through the evolution of the passionate brain and a bravura tour through fifty years of American presidential and national elections, why campaigns succeed and fail. The evidence is overwhelming that three things determine how people vote, in this order: their feelings toward the parties and their principles, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven't decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates' policy positions.

Westen turns conventional political analyses on their head, suggesting that the question for Democratic politics isn't so much about moving to the right or the left but about moving the electorate. He shows how it can be done through examples of what candidates have said—or could have said—in debates, speeches, and ads. Westen's discoveries could utterly transform electoral arithmetic, showing how a different view of the mind and brain leads to a different way of talking with voters about issues that have tied the tongues of Democrats for much of forty years—such as abortion, guns, taxes, and race. You can't change the structure of the brain. But you can change the way you appeal to it. And here's how…

The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex: Anatomy, Evolution, and the Origin of Insight (Oxford Psychology)

The Mind within the Brain: How We Make Decisions and How those Decisions Go Wrong

Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love: What Neuroscience Can and Can't Tell Us about How We Feel

The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning

Affinità di coppia

Neurobiology of Human Values (Research and Perspectives in Neurosciences)














effective speeches, and the most effective moments in debates all combine emotion and cognition. But they do so in a very particular way, and in a very particular sequence. Usually they lead with something emotionally compelling—a moral issue facing the country, the personal history of the candidate, a story about a person the candidate has met on the campaign trail, an injustice that cries out to be rectified. They then follow with a contrast between the two candidates or parties, creating

Consider this passage from his nomination speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention:Tonight every one of you knows deep in your heart that we are too divided. It is time to heal America. And so we must say to every American: Look beyond the stereotypes that blind us.... We don’t have a person to waste, and yet for too long politicians have told the most of us that are doing all right that what’s really wrong with America is the rest of us—them. Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the

ad also quietly conveyed something else very important about Obama: that he is Christian. That mattered for two reasons. First, Obama’s Christianity breaks down another barrier between him and many white voters, particularly in the South. The ad implicitly says to the majority of Americans, “We worship the same God.” Second, for a year the Obama campaign had let a story fester about him, largely on the Internet, that took many forms: that he was Islamic, that he put his hand on the Koran when

people’s racial fears and prejudices, whereas the second, which alone would simply have been emotionally powerful, capitalized on the associations created by the first and the enormous media attention it attracted, including heart-wrenching testimonials (paid for by the GOP) from Horton’s victims, who directly blamed Dukakis and Horton in a single breath. This orchestrated campaign was highly effective. Survey data following the same potential voters over time from January to October of 1988

tremendous significance. Take almost any contentious issue, and you’ll find that the electorate will endorse what seem like contradictory positions on it. The vast majority of Americans supports gun control. But the vast majority also supports the right to bear arms. So are Americans pro-gun or anti-gun? That’s the wrong question. The question seems natural to a dispassionate mind that considers the mutual implications of its various values, attitudes, and beliefs, and comes to a unitary,

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