The political brain : the role of emotion in deciding the fate of the nation

by Drew Westen

Paper Book, 2007

Status

Available

Publication

New York : PublicAffairs, c2007.

Description

The Political Brain is a groundbreaking scientific investigation into how the mind works, how the brain works, and what this means for why candidates win and lose elections.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bingereader
Drew Westen does an excellent job of integrating diverse areas of psychology - drawing on Darwin, Freud, Skinner, Damasio, LeDoux - to explain the art of political persuasion and its inherent need to impact the emotional side of the human brain.

According to the jacket description, Westen is a
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psychologist at Emory University who consults with Democratic party candidates. Even without that small bio, he is quite explicit in stating that the book is directed toward a Democratic party auience. I believe, however, he actually does a disservice to himself in that the book would likely appeal to a much broader audience (though conservatives would have to tolerate the inherent bias against their position).

The book is divided into two core sections:

1. A background section that provides the research basis for his thesis that the failure of the Democrats to reach the populac eis that they focus on a rational mind; in contrast, the Republicans focus on the emotional. Using research and sample speeches and debates by politicians (Dukakis, Reagan, Gore, Clinton, Carter, etc.) from both sides, he lays the ground work for his thesis.

2. The second section provides concrete advise to the Democratic party - from the notion of developing a "emotional constitution" to addressing specific hotbutton issues in a manner that resonates with the populace.

The book is easily ready and clearly written. Unfortunately, though the work is peppered with numeric superscripts that would appear to refer to endnotes, there is no endnote section in the book. Rather, Westen and/or his publisher, provide a sparse list of "further reading" in the back and then refer readers to a website that is, in essence, an endnote section. Although this is not an academic text, I find this too far removed to be useful. In my nonfiction books, I prefer footnotes that allow a quick sweep down rather than endnotes that require a separate bookmark. The notion of having a "endnotes" that are moved to a website is a further step removed and an unnecessary one.

Overall, an excellent book that is a must-read not just for Democrats but also any one interested in politics and the nature of communication.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
The Political Brain is one of the most interesting books I've read. The author is a psychology professor and he uses neurological and psychological studies to explain how voters make decisions. Professor Westen declares upfront that he is a Democrat, and his book is geared to helping Democratic
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candidates better position themselves in future elections. However, this book would be of interest to any "political junkie" as it quotes many campaign ads and speeches, and several legislative battles. The ideas on how to persuade and win support for yourself and your ideas would be of interest to anyone trying to lead an organization. I'm Canadian and I found it relevant to much of the "policy" discourse that takes place in the media.

Basically, Professor Westen argues that Republicans speak the language of emotion and Democrats speak the language of reason. His studies show that people rely far less on candidates' positions on issues than they do on considerations such as: does this person share my values? Could I trust this candidate to represent me? He says Democrats should talk less about issues from a "facts and figures" perspective and more about values --
coming at issues from a principled, moral position. Don't cede morality to the right!

There are so many wonderful quotes and ideas in this book....I could go on for a long time! Highly recommended, even if you aren't an American Democrat.
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LibraryThing member NY-Independent76
Drew Westen provides a comprehensive study detailing the impact that emotion has on the electorate. Westen contends that the National Republican party has been more adept at appealing to voter's emotions, while Democrats tend to focus on appealing to voters through the use of logic and issue
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oriented appeals. This is the perfect book to read around election time because it will help you make sense of the candidate's appeals to voters.
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LibraryThing member etsmith
The Political Brain was a revelation to me. I am a fan of both Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who criticizes political communication as deceptive, distracting and bad for democracy, and Samuel Popkin, who says that voters make reasonable decisions under conditions of low information rationality. Drew
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Westen's book provides insight into how both of these fine social scientists can be correct. Westen uses recent insights into how brains process information to show how voters made decisions. One caveat: his point of view is unrepentantly partisan as he uses brain science to give advice to Democrats on how to win elections. I love this book and wish that he had written it in a less partisan format so I could assign it to my campaigns classes.
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LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
When I picked up this book, I was expecting a more rigorous psychological analysis. This book was actually a purely political commentary on how the Democrats are not as good as the Republicans in appealing to the emotions of potential voters. It came with lots of examples of advertisements and
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campaign gimmicks which either appeal or don’t appeal to emotions.

Unfortunately, Westen is just a little too militantly Democratic to make this book truly good. He used the opportunity to criticize Republican policies and almost made it sound like racism was part of the Republican platform. He also tended to make very generalized comments on how people really feel about issues, without providing any strong evidence. For instance, he gave an example of how he and his wife felt when they had an (unfortunate) late-term miscarriage—they were happy when a nurse finally referred to the remains as “the fetal remains” instead of “your baby.” He then said: “This shows you how most people feel about late term fetuses. Even though they are very sad to have lost the fetus, they still don’t feel that it is their baby.” (Or something along those lines.) Although I don’t object to his feelings on this subject, he shouldn’t give an example of how ONE couple feels as proof that most people feel that way. I could as easily come up with someone who feels the opposite and come to the conclusion that everyone feels THAT way, instead.

In other words, don’t read it as a scholarly psychological analysis, but as a partisan political book that makes some interesting points.
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LibraryThing member annbury
Fascinating and important book about how voters reach decisions on how to cast their votes. It's not logic and reason and measured views on policy, people, it's emotion. And that's why the results of elections can often seem so odd, given the expressed views of the electorate. This book goes a long
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way to explaining why U.S. voters, in particular, seem so unresponsive to arguments directed to their assumed self-interest (from Democrats) and so responsive to emotional appeals (from Republicans). I which more Democratic political operatives would read this, and act upon it.
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LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
The sub-title of this book is, 'The role of emotion in deciding the fate of the nation' and, this perhaps sums up the main point of this work better than the actual title.

It is, of course, a very valid point that politicians need to engage their emotions in an election. Whilst the public will say
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that facts are the main requirement, the truth is that we lead busy lives and the general public do not have the time, or frankly the inclination, to study all the issues. If something is having a direct effect, at the moment, then one is in tune, otherwise, the politician needs to convince us that he/she is 'one of us'. In Great Britain, this has been done by Nigel Farage, and in the US by Mr Trump. It takes very little study to realise that both are the ultimate establishment figures and yet, our desire to believe otherwise has seen them through.

Drew Weston does not advocate these false sentiments, but suggests that true feelings are vital. There is much to be learned from this book but, one must remember that, under the archaic systems, of both countries, the colour of your money is a better indicator of success.
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