Alexandra Alter’s “Reading the Mind Of the Body Politic” in today’s Wall St. Journal should be of interest to those following the buzz about Drew Westen’s “The Political Brain.” Alter’s article, which includes photos, graphics and a video, focuses on efforts to apply Westen’s ideas in current political campaigns. For example:
Last Sunday at a San Francisco hotel ballroom, EmSense researchers fitted five volunteers, all undecided Republicans, with battery-powered headsets made of elastic and lined with bits of copper. As they watched the debate on a big screen, the wireless units, which the company calls “EmGear,” collected data on their skin temperature, heart rate, eye-blinking and brain activity and beamed them to a bank of computers. The data were run through a formula created by EmSense to identify whether a response was positive or negative.
When John McCain ran through a list of Hispanic politicians who had endorsed him, the company says the brain-wave frequencies of the test subjects stayed flat, indicating a lack of interest. When Mike Huckabee argued that withdrawing troops from Iraq would create a power vacuum for terrorists, the volunteers’ adrenaline spiked. Fred Thompson’s discussion of health care caused a pattern of brain activity that suggests the viewers thought about what he said, but didn’t like it. The company, which says it plans to begin contacting campaigns later this month, says it could help candidates vet advertisements or hone their language and delivery in speeches.
Alter discusses other innovative experiments by neuromarketing campaign consultants to mine the subconscious and emotional responses of voters. A good read also for those interested in the newer frontiers of political attitude research.