I always wonder why some people seem to make up their minds before they get all the facts. Maybe this is one of the reasons why...
Snippets from article:
It’s been discouraging watching these so-called town hall meetings on health care reform. One imagines a time when informed citizens really did engage in fair-minded debate on the important issues of the day, but there’s little evidence of such constructive conversation going on today. It appears that health care reform is up there with the most polarizing moral issues: abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage. Opponents are not listening. They’re covering their ears and shouting instead.
Is it possible that the whole idea of the town hall is a nostalgic fantasy? Perhaps we’re just not wired for authentic give-and-take on morally charged questions. Unhappily, some newly reported psychological research suggests that this may the case.
Psycholinguists at the University of Amsterdam recruited members of a strict Christian political party, known for their outspoken views on moral issues like abortion and divorce and recreational drug use. They also recruited political liberals known for their diametrically opposing views. They wired all their brains up to an EEG to measure electrical activity.
Once wired up, the volunteers read a long list of statements on a wide variety of moral issues. Each read both a statement they would likely agree with, and one they would disagree with. For example: “I think euthanasia is an acceptable (or unacceptable) course of action.” Or: “A society that condones abortion is a bad (or good) society.” The EEG measures brain activity in real time, so it’s possible to see not just the (predictable) reaction of each group, but exactly what part of the sentence triggered the reaction.
The results were unambiguous, and unsettling. The brains of the volunteers fired up within 250 milliseconds of reading a word that signaled a conflict of values. That’s faster than you can snap your fingers. This means, for example, that a strict Christian reading a sentence about abortion gets an electrical warning—does not compute!—the instant he reads the word good. He doesn’t even have to finish reading the sentence. No more words needed.
From a psycholinguistic point of view, this is fascinating: It means that the brain’s values system and its language processing system are much more tightly intertwined than we thought. From a democratic perspective, it’s disheartening: It’s hard to know precisely which word made the health-reform shouters stop listening and start yelling, but it appears unlikely their brains will stop firing long enough to reconsider their position.
Link to full article: