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Tears and laughter — what the opposition needs to beat Modi

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19.08.2019

Drew Westen, a professor of psychology in Atlanta, US, struggled with a political question in the early 2000s. Why was it that surveys showed American people agreeing with Democrats on most issues, but when it came to voting, Democrats were doing poorly?

To understand this, he conducted political experiments on the brain in 2004. He showed political messages to Democrat and Republican supporters and scanned their brains to see how the brain reacts. He found that the human brain responds to politics more through emotion than reason.

When a Democrat supporter was shown a message depicting a Democratic Party leader in a bad light, the brain quickly found ways to rationalise it, and once that was done, the emotional part of the brain lit up again.

The experiments proved that “confirmation bias” had a scientific basis and why politically partisan people loved fake news like a drug addiction. But they also explained what Democrats had been doing wrong and the Republicans had been doing right: using emotions in political messaging.

Also read: How India’s liberals and opposition can start winning the battle of ideas

From these experiments came out the book The Political Brain in 2007. It immediately became a rage in the Democratic circles and influenced the Democratic Party’s thinking about its messaging around the time of the first Obama campaign. Westen did not directly work on the Obama campaign, but Joe Biden and Bill Clinton were among the people who asked Democrats to take the book seriously. Westen wrote a pamphlet for Democrats titled, “Message Handbook for Progressives from Left to Center”.

Since then, The Political Brain has become a hugely influential book in politics across the world. It could not........

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