David Amerland
Politics and neuroscience


Nothing takes place in a vacuum. From the choice of clothes we arrive at, after some deliberation, to wear to work; to the person we decide is most suited for the job of running the country the pathway of choices that lead to decisions which manifest themselves into actions, starts from stimuli processed deep inside our head.

That stimuli is provided, mostly, by external sources. This makes the environment we live in and the culture we experience pivotal to the perception we form.

Politics is defined as “the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status.” It stands to reason therefore that our political choices, political affiliations and even our political biases are the result of the processing of external signals that our brains perform in order for us to better understand the world.

Which is where Neuropolitics enter the picture. Neuroscientific studies have shown that declarative memory (the part of the memory that consciously recalls facts and figures) plays a negligible role in the voting decision of individuals. What does play a role, apparently, is the activation of the reward system in the brain by candidates who are good at identifying themselves with particular parts of the voting audience. That reward system, in turn, reinforces our sense of identity which sets off an entire chain of internal events that have to do with our understanding of our goal in life, mission, values and purpose.

That same study showed that partisanship (i.e. the -sometimes- blind adherence to specific political parties) is also rooted in this system with the additional attraction of offering a much-desired shortcut to complex decision making.

The ability to humanize and dehumanize specific groups of individuals is challenging much of our cognitive efforts in a time when hyper-connectivity and hyper-mobility have come to characterize life in the 21st century. This constant state of flux makes the need for solid guidelines to living in the 21st century that can withstand different contexts.

Our brain is a marvelous machine capable of helping us break free of silos, overcome biases and arrive at better decisions which lead to more equitable outcomes. At the same time our political beliefs represent a filter that creates specific morphologies in our brain structure that lead us to process similar facts, differently.

This doesn’t mean we are biologically or, for that matter, neurochemically; locked into one particular political party or another. We may have an inclination to belong to one political party or another as Hannah Holmes says but it is in diversity that we find our true super-power. Diversity also provides us with the means to establish viable forms of government that work equally well at all times and under most circumstances.

If there is a true moral to all this, a key understanding that we can take away is that we truly need each other. Not just because there is such a thing as safety in numbers, but because we each is a piece of a greater puzzle whose solution ensures the survival of the world. Without others we give up key pieces. The puzzle will not then be solved. Alone, sequestered in groups of identical thinking, we may feel righteous but the short length of our survival timeline will show that we are not right.

Coffee. Right? Donuts. Cookies. Croissants and Chocolate Cake. Get them. You need them. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

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