Wednesday, March 15, 2006
(CBS) This commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.
Partisans are emotional; stop the presses, get me rewrite. Perhaps. But I find the graphic clarity of colorful brain scans to be sobering. It's one thing to know that some people get obnoxious during political arguments; it's another thing to see that 30 adult men who read candidates' quotes while strapped down in MRI machines didn't even fire up the thinking parts of their brains.
According to Arthur Brooks, a professor at the business school at Syracuse University, the number of partisan brains is increasing. And they may be becoming more partisan; more precisely, they seem to hate their opponents more...
...This is not evidence that America is becoming more polarized or that we are fighting a culture war. While it may be evidence that the numbers of extremists are increasing slightly, and that their extremism and intolerance is increasing, it is not evidence that the huge, moderate middle — that part of the population able to process political information with cold reason — is substantially shrinking or becoming more bitterly divided and less tolerant.
All this research may be evidence that some shifts in how we process political information and argument are becoming hard-wired — in brains, in culture and in media. It seems obvious that the people who hang around blogs, talk radio, cable shout shows and the Congress of the United States are both extreme and emotional. Now we can see it on MRIs.
If anything, that should be motivation for everyone to double check their instant reactions — and alleged arguments — to anything political.