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The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   475
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.25" Width: 5.25" Height: 8.5"
Weight:   1.06 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 5, 2008
Publisher   PublicAffairs
ISBN  1586485733  
EAN  9781586485733  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
A clinical psychologist and political strategist looks at how voters respond emotionally, not rationally, to presidential candidates and offers examples of politicians who create an emotional bond with voters that helps them ignore facts that contradict their preference.

Publishers Description
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…

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
couldn't finish it  Dec 1, 2008
This is a very narrow book. I got it thinking it would lend some real light on what makes one person a conservative and another a liberal, what personality traits might make one person favor one party over another, what neuroses and what healthy traits might be at play when voters pull certain levers.

Instead, it's really just one more partisan take on the world of late 20th and early 21st century American politics. In particular, the author seems really only interested in how the Democrats can do better by borrowing a page from the Republicans' playbook - in particular, in using emotion in political advertising.

There's very little here that is really of any interest beyond such a narrow partisan agenda. The author's typical strategy is to hammer away at some very basic construct from cognitive psychology (neural networks, say), discuss some ad (typically in a rhetorical, not a psychological, fashion), then state - once again - that emotion plays a role in politics. Doh! I guess you have to be a Democratic strategist for this last bit to be really anything more than a no-brainer.

There is very little discussion of research beyond a study here and a study there (including the author's own). I thought for sure that a psychology professor at a fine institution such as Emory might have quite a bit to say. Surely there's more out there than this. This is, however, very much a political book, not a psychological one.
The Many Layers of Practical Politics in the U.S.  Nov 22, 2008
This book contains many layers of analysis, all of which are connected to the methodological machinery of recent brain research; and all of which are imminently plausible in the context of contemporary American politics. However, each has its own rather subtle flaws.

At the first level of analysis, the Machiavellian like advice given to democrats: that they must move away from taking "the intellectual high road" and move to a more "gut level emotional approach" to politics if they are to ever expect to reach the "Guns, God and anti-gay" (or Sarah Pallin) faction of the American electorate, is on its face not just reasonable but entirely sage advice. But also, if one takes into account the larger tectonic forces that tend to move the American electorate, then this advice is trivially true and obvious. And here, by tectonic forces I mean economic issues, issues of America's role on the international scene, and issues of general fairness. However, as anyone who has studied the American political mind, or the political process, know all too well, both are ever evolving dynamic and organic systems. And thus, what may have been sage advice today may be entirely irrelevant advice even a few months later -- as the election of Barack Obama so aptly demonstrates: Apparently, some of Westen's so called "emotional racist elements" evidently had to find it within their hearts, and within their emotional power to vote for Obama overriding and trumping their emotional anti- minority ideological posture. For it is a given that in order for Mr. Obama to have achieved a 56% mandate to rule, he had to have had at least a sizeable chunk of that faction's vote.

For my money, if "emotional politics" are to be used as a basis for electoral analysis," I prefer the more indirect approach of Dick Morris perfected through his "triangulation process, a process put to such excellent effect by "Team Clinton." The Morris approach, took implicit advantage of the dynamic qualities of the American political mind (and process) without having to characterize it either positively or negatively. For once an emotional valence is attached to the political process that attachment then becomes a self-fulfilling part of the political narrative itself.

At the second level of analysis: of voter decision making based on interrogation of brain cells via "implanted electrodes." This is at the very least tricky, "cutting edge" and "risky" scientific -- not to mention political business. And while the author's analysis in this area does indeed track well with the seminal work in this area of Daniel Goldman (in both his "Emotional Intelligence" and his "Primal Leadership") as well as that of Michael S. Gazzaniga's "The Social Brain," the research here is not done nearly as carefully as that performed by say, Andrew Newberg, et al in their "Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief." (See my this site review).

In that book, the reader may recall that those authors performed a similar analysis: interrogating subjects about their beliefs as electrodes were inserted into their brains. To their credit, Newberg was very modest and restrained in the claims he made about the mapping between feelings and beliefs based on brain states -- and indeed in what that might all mean to an individual's belief in God. An accurate summary of their very restrained approach could be paraphrased as: "Brain scans can indeed show that something is going on among the neurons that doesn't happen at other times, but there is no way to know exactly what that something is. Suffice it to say that it is incumbent upon the researcher to make clear what it is that "electrode interrogation" is measuring and more important, what it is capable of measuring. Not only has Westen not done this, his research in this area has such a paucity of citations, one wonders whether or not he is working entirely alone and in the dark?

Finally, this approach, of "tracking" the discrepancies and contradictions in the decision making and emotional judgments of individuals, has a rich and well-known pedigree in the literature on "Cognitive Dissonance," invented by Leon Festinger (in his Theories of Cognitive Consistency: A Sourcebook) and made famous by Shel Feldman (in his Cognitive Consistency). I was disappointed not to see this large and important body of literature even mentioned in the author's analysis. I tried unsuccessfully to connect to the website with his larger bibliography and set of references.

Despite these concerns, this author has hit a rich mother lode and is pushing forward, with or without relying on his academic bone fides. Five Stars for sheer intellectual guts.
Psychologist and Democratic consultant advises politicians  Nov 5, 2008
The author is a clinical and neuropsychologist at Emory University who presents both research and savy political anecdotes in support of his view that Democratic candidates have failed to understand and use emotion in their campaigns for office. It is an account of relevant psychological and neuropsychological research and a history and analysis of failed Democratic campaigns (most notably Gore and Kerry) with recommendations future candidates.
the best book ever  Oct 15, 2008
OK not ever, but definitely if you're interested in 1) politics, 2) political campaigns or/and.. more importantly- 3) how we think, feel and make decisions, you must read this book.
Every Democratic candidate should read this book!  Sep 29, 2008
As a professional consultant on political communications, I have long believed in the power of emotional appeal as opposed to logical. Drew Westin must have read my mind. His theories, field tests and case histories not only confirmed my beliefs, but added significantly to them. I've been taking his words and repeating them to every Democratic operative and activist I know, and I am putting them to use in my own political advertising practice. Democrats should make "The Political Brain" required reading for all candidates and consultants. I've listened to the audio version of the book four times, and will undoubtedly listen again. "The Political Brain" is more than just a great book; it could change the course of American politics. Thank you, Dr. Westin!

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