Neuroscientists and a linguist provide explanations behind our country’s current political situation.

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Why People Shut Down When Their Political Beliefs Are Challenged

The following article discusses findings from a recent brain imaging study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Excerpts are as follows:

As we’ve repeatedly seen in this divisive post-election season, political beliefs are so deeply entrenched in the psyche that people will often defend them even in the face of overwhelming opposition and counterevidence.

A University of Southern California study… shows that challenging someone’s political beliefs activates brain areas that are involved in personal identity and emotional response to threat. The brain’s alarms go off, the person feels threatened on a deeply personal and emotional level ― and then shuts down and disregards any rational evidence that contradicts what he or she holds true. Indeed, such evidence may only increase people’s conviction in their own beliefs.

When our deeply-held beliefs are challenged, we react as we would to other threats ― like a snake rustling in the grass or a fast-approaching car ― which also activate the insula and amygdala.

“We found some similarities between our beliefs being threatened and other kinds of threat in terms of the brain’s response,” Kaplan said. “Both the insula and the amygdala are sensitive to threats, and in our study, the signal we measured from these structures related to how people responded to the challenging information.”

These findings might help explain why people presented with arguments that challenge their beliefs ― whether on immigration rights, terrorism or trickle-down economics― are more likely to become hard-headed and defensive than to calmly listen and consider the evidence.

In the meantime, keep the lines of communication open. Nobody benefits when we all retreat into our separate camps and decide that everyone who disagrees with us is wrong.

You can see the scientific article at this link, and the media write-up at this link.

Linguistic Factors in the 2016 Election

In this article, linguist George Lakoff explains factors behind Donald Trump’s win, factors that were not fully appreciated or acknowledged by his opponents. Democrats played into Trump’s hands, Lakoff says — and they won’t “win” until they learn how to frame the debate.

The start of the article reads:

George Lakoff didn’t start off in the world of politics. He was a founding father of cognitive linguistics, starting with his 1980 book, “Metaphors We Live By” (co-authored with philosopher Mark Johnson). The book showed how immediate, concrete experience — bodily orientation, physical movement, and so on — structures our understanding of more complex and abstract experiences via “conceptual metaphors” such as “Consciousness Is Up,” “Love Is a Journey,” etc.

You can see the article (an interview) in its entirety at this link.