Two scientists at UCLA are using brain scans to determinehow the minds of Republicans differ from those of Democrats.
Last month, Dr. Joshua Freedman and Dr. Marco Iocaboni usedfunctional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitorbrain activity of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans whileshowing the subjects images of President Bush, John Kerry,and Ralph Nader.
The results showed dramatic activity increases in the regionof the brain indicating the feeling of empathy when eithergroup was shown their favorite presidential candidate. Whenphotographs of the opposing candidate were presented, thesubjects? brain, regardless of party, responded with theportion of the brain that asserts control over emotion. Drs.Freedman and Iocaboni suggest that from this evidence, itseems the subjects were trying to actively dislike theircandidate?s opponent.
In addition, the subjects also watched some political adsgetting heavy air time in these days leading up to theelection, including President Bush?s political ad featuringimages of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Interestingly, whileboth Democrats and Republicans watched this commercial, theamygdala (the brain region responding to the most primalphysical fear or danger) showed increased blood flow,possibly indicating a sort of fight or flight reaction,proving just how intensely the brain responds to media images.
While brain scans are not yet widely used in the politicalarena, they are becoming increasingly useful in what hasbeen termed ?neuromarketing.? Most neuromarketing studiesare still confined to research facilities such as theCalifornia Institute of Technology and Baylor University,which recently released a study finalizing the long runningPepsi versus Coke debate. The answer? It turns out that sodapreference is less about taste than about culturalbackground. However, one company, Daimler Chrysler, hasalready begun using brain scans to judge consumer reactionsto their new car designs.
Using these potentially life saving scans for political ormarket research is irksome to some consumer protectionorganizations such as Commercial Alert, a non profitcompany run by Gary Ruskin in Oregon. Mr. Ruskin warns thatuse for political gain corrupts the medical purpose of thetechnology.
Despite the ethical issues, ?consumer? brain scans have thepotential to revolutionize product marketing. Just imaginethe efficacy of commercials with hard neuroscience behindthem instead of just annoying jingles. Perhaps in the futureyou will never be able to get that darn song out of your head.
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