Brain scans reveal that staunch members of both parties ignore evidence that puts their own candidate in a bad light. What is worse is that they even show brain characteristics common in drug addicts.
Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects' brains were monitored while they pondered.
The results were announced today.
"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts."
The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.
Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.
The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.
So what does that mean for "office politics?" You are a manager. Three subordinates provide ideas for a solution to a vexing problem. Do you choose the best idea, or do you choose the idea submitted by the person you like the most? Of course you are unbiased. We all believe we are. But this study would imply that sometimes we aren't, and we don't even realize it.
The first question is for me is, how do we avoid this problem? I think being aware of the potential is a good start. Ask if it is possible that your friendship with a co-worker is influencing the decision. Feedback from unbiased parties will also help. Find people that aren't affected by the consequences of the decision.
The more interesting question, in my opinion, is this – what do you do if you are the victim of this issue? Can you bring it to light in a way that doesn't make you the bad guy? It won't work to say "you only picked his idea because you liked him more." Actually, even implying that in a round-about way will problemably get you a nasty label at work. The only solution I can think of is to accept it and try to be a little more pre-emptive next time. But if any of you have better ideas, I'm all ears (or eyes, I guess, since you will have to leave them in the comments).