Political Irrationality and the Brain
By Bryan Caplan
I think that brain research is overrated. A lot of it does little more than confirm the obvious points that (a) unusual people have unusual brains; (b) people doing unusual things have unusual brain states. If nuns had unusual brains, we wouldn’t conclude that being a nun was a disease; so why do people leap to the conclusion that if people with Intermittent Explosive Disorder have unusual brains, then Intermittent Explosive Disorder is a disease?
A more serious test of whether voters are less rational than consumers is test #6: Scan the brain and see whether voters use more primitive centers of the brain when voting than when making purchases.
Now we can see whether Wittman will backpeddle in the way I suggested:
Wittman of all people should presume that the division of cognitive labor in the brain is functional. If we use our “primitive centers” to form political beliefs, why not conclude that these are the optimal centers to use for this purpose? It is at best premature to equate the output of the “primitive centers of the brain” with irrationality. In fact, since lower animals do not hold political ideologies, my guess is that ideological thinking uses centers of the brain unique to man.
Admittedly, Wittman originally left himself the following out:
One would have to control, however, for the possibility that people get more excited about politics than about what clothes to wear (at least this is true for the people that I know). So perhaps one would have to compare political matters, like where one stands on the war in Iraq, to questions more akin to day-to-day matters, like where one stands on whether dog owners should clean up after their dogs.
So maybe he’ll just say this test didn’t do the right comparison.