Bulimia stereopticon! No, that’s not it. Bovine spongeography? Barack standardization? Broadside synchronizable? Rats. I just can’t think of a phrase that’s on the tip of me tongue. And I so much need it to describe a new piece of research put out by Roger Newman-Norlund and friends from the University of South Carolina’s Department of—stay with me now—Exercise Science1.
My shocking memory is probably the cause of my brain being “hard-wired” differently than yours. Newman-Norlund has discovered Republicans have brains which are unlike those of Democrats. And it just might be the case Republicans— which I am not though I do tend to vote that way—can’t recall tart phrases as readily as my progressive brothers can.
Seems blue folks and red folks are “naturally inclined to hold varying, if not opposing, perceptions and values.” Evolution, through some mysterious mechanism, has led humans down two paths, one of which is populated with beings who prefer government to remove freedoms at slightly faster rates than citizens who prefer a brave new world to come at a slower pace. So says science.
How was this advance made possible? Newman-Norlund hooked 24—two dozen; roughly 0.00000035% of the world’s population—WEIRD people, i.e. mostly white college kids from identical socio-economic backgrounds, to an electronic phrenology device (a.k.a. MRI). When a self-styled Democrat went under, one area of a computer screen glowed faintly. When instead a Republican was scanned, a slightly different area of the screen glowed.
Not for every Democrat and not for every Republican, some of whom lit up the same screen real estate. But if you took an average of the coordinates of the Democrat and an average of the coordinates of the Republicans, you’d discover, after processing, processing, processing these averages through statistical formulas, then these formulas would announce that, yes, the averages were located in slightly different places. I know this because Newman-Norlund said, “The differences are significant and real.”
“I get all that. Different glows for different folks,” you’re undoubtedly thinking, “But what do areas on a computer screen have to do with Obama versus Romney voters?” That’s easy. Areas of the brain “associated with” “broad social connectedness” blinked for Democrats, and areas “associated with” “tight social connectedness” turned color for Republicans.
“Associated with”? Sure. See, other studies hooked up other very small numbers of WEIRD people to electronic phrenology machines, who were then asked questions researchers thought had something to do with the well known concept of “broad social connectedness”. The researchers then watched their screens to see what turned color. After that, they switched questions, moving into “tight social connectedness” territory and again peered at their screens. Whatever blinked was noted. And there you have it: areas of the brain “associated with” different modes of thinking.
Not only that. The realization that researchers could make computers turn colors launched an entirely new science, now called political neuroscience, which, as the USC press release says, is “still in its infancy”, but great things are envisioned. What better way to medicalize a person’s vote? “He voted Republican? Put it down to bad brain wiring.”
Don’t laugh. Newman-Norlund says his science will soon allow “politicians and campaign strategists [to] learn how to exploit brain differences to make more effective, biologically targeted appeals to voters.” If you thought demographically targeted ads were annoying, just wait until you take a gander at those devised based on your DNA.
And why can’t Democrats, and vice versa, learn from their foolish mistakes? Well, “bridging partisan divides and acting contrary to ideological preferences likely requires going against deeply ingrained biological tendencies.” Still, through what we might call “reeducation”, perhaps in fun, festive areas like camps, “neuron connections can change over time”, but “it’s not something that happens overnight,” Newman-Norlund lamented.
The news is not entirely cheering. The good prof. warned, “we’re not going to wake up one day and all start getting along.” Here, anyway, he does not speak Bifurcation Soliloquy.
Thanks to readers Al and Ann Perrella who tipped me off on this topic.
1Who says there is over-specialization in academia?