Bias and Addiction

When we’re biased, we don’t think:

“Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides [Republican and Democrat] to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects’ brains were monitored while they pondered.

“‘We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,’ said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. ‘What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.’

“The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.

“Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.

“The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.”

And I would guess this brain activity pattern to be true whenever we perceive that information may threaten our position, whether in the political realm or otherwise.

So the idea, previously discussed here, that we have “nothing to prove” can be a good way to really listen to someone else in a moment of conflict, because it allows us to unjoin from our position, knowing we don’t have to prove it right or best.

For me, “nothing to prove” implies remembering and acknowledging that an individual’s inherent worth is not truly threatened by others’ opinions, experiences, beliefs, etc., and it is a posture of openness and strength, a willingness to let go of any preconceived idea of self or identity, realising that self and identity are tenuous entities at best, molded and modelled on others and their desires.


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