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The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nationby Drew Westen
Synopses & Reviews
The Political Brain is a groundbreaking investigation into the role of emotion in determining the political life of the nation. For two decades Drew Westen, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University, has explored a theory of the mind that differs substantially from the more "dispassionate" notions held by most cognitive psychologists, political scientists, and economists—and Democratic campaign strategists. The idea of the mind as a cool calculator that makes decisions by weighing the evidence bears no relation to how the brain actually works. When political candidates assume voters dispassionately make decisions based on "the issues," they lose. That's why only one Democrat has been re-elected to the presidency since Franklin Roosevelt—and only one Republican has failed in that quest.
In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins. Elections are decided in the marketplace of emotions, a marketplace filled with values, images, analogies, moral sentiments, and moving oratory, in which logic plays only a supporting role. Westen shows, through a whistle-stop journey through the evolution of the passionate brain and a bravura tour through fifty years of American presidential and national elections, why campaigns succeed and fail. The evidence is overwhelming that three things determine how people vote, in this order: their feelings toward the parties and their principles, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven't decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates' policy positions.
Westen turns conventional political analyses on their head, suggesting that the question for Democratic politics isn't so much about moving to the right or the left but about moving the electorate. He shows how it can be done through examples of what candidates have said—or could have said—in debates, speeches, and ads. Westen's discoveries could utterly transform electoral arithmetic, showing how a different view of the mind and brain leads to a different way of talking with voters about issues that have tied the tongues of Democrats for much of forty years—such as abortion, guns, taxes, and race. You can't change the structure of the brain. But you can change the way you appeal to it. And here's how
This groundbreaking investigation by a renowned psychologist and neuroscientist proves it: We vote with our hearts, not our minds
In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that emotion plays a central role in global politics. For example, people readily care about acts of terrorism and humanitarian crises because they appeal to our compassion for human suffering. These struggles also command attention where social interactions have the power to produce or intensify the emotional responses of those who participate in them.
From passionate protests to poignant speeches, Andrew A. G. Ross analyzes high-emotion events with an eye to how they shape public sentiment and finds that there is no single answer. The politically powerful play to the public’s emotions to advance their political aims, and such appeals to emotion also often serve to sustain existing values and institutions. But the affective dimension can produce profound change, particularly when a struggle in the present can be shown to line up with emotionally resonant events from the past. Extending his findings to well-studied conflicts, including the War on Terror and the violence in Rwanda and the Balkans, Ross identifies important sites of emotional impact missed by earlier research focused on identities and interests.
About the Author
Drew Westen received his B.A. at Harvard, an M.A. in Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex (England), and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan, where he subsequently taught for six years. For several years he was Chief Psychologist at Cambridge Hospital and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. He is a commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered" and lives in Atlanta.
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
One / Circulations of Affect in Global Politics
Two / Contagion and the Creativity of Affect
Three / The Affective Politics of Terror
Four / Emotions and Ethnic Conflict
Five / Justice Beyond Hatred
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