In honor of recent events, we have some unsettling news this week from the annals of science: It appears that logic and reason have very little to do with effective persuasion -- in a presidential debate, say. It's all about feeling right or wrong.
Jules Suzdaltsev explains in today's DNews dispatch.
In 2004, psychologists designed a study to determine whether winning an argument or debate actually results in effective persuasion. Volunteer participants -- who were supporters of either George W. Bush or John Kerry -- were shown videos of their preferred candidate contradicting himself.
Meanwhile, the participants' brains were monitored via an MRI device. The results were intriguing. When shown videos that challenged their beliefs, the subjects showed very little activity in the portion of the brain dedicated to logic and reason. (The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, if you're taking notes at home.)
RELATED: Emotion Detector: VR Tech Reads Your Feelings
However, the areas of the brain associated with emotion and judgment -- the orbital frontal cortex, the anterior cingulate and the posterior cingulate -- lit up like atomic Christmas trees. Instead of using logic to assess and perhaps change their beliefs, the subjects were focused on how the new information made them feel. In other words, when it comes to persuasive argument, the brain appears to throw its processing power into resolving emotional incongruence.
The study suggests that even the most devastating rational arguments are unlikely to have an effect. FBI negotiators have known this for a while, actually, which is why they employ a method of persuasion known as the Behavioral Change Stairway Model. The approach involves establishing empathy and trust, because in the end it's all about feeling -- not logic.
It's the kind of human trait that keeps Mr. Spock up at night, but what can you do? Jules has more details on the Stairway Model in his report, or click on over to our related coverage: Do Presidential Debates Sway Voters?
-- Glenn McDonald
UC Berkeley: A Science-Based Guide to Delivering Your Most Persuasive Message
TIME: 6 Hostage Negotiation Techniques That Will Get You What You Want
Emory University: An fMRI study of motivated reasoning: Partisan political reasoning in the U.S. Presidential Election