Now THAT’s a magic eight ball

Two Democratic political consultants and a UCLA psychiatry prof have joined forces to fund a project exploring how the brain reacts to the stimuli from political ads. (NYT, Reg. req.)

How have they measured the reactions of their eleven test subjects so far? With an M.R.I. machine!

In the experiment … , researchers exposed [a subject] to photographs of the presidential candidates, commercials for President Bush and John Kerry, and other video images, including the “Daisy” commercial from 1964. In that advertisement, promoting Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater, images of a girl picking petals from a daisy were replaced by images of a nuclear explosion …

“Brain imaging offers a fantastic opportunity to study how people respond to political information,” said Jonathan D. Cohen, director of the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior at Princeton. “But the results of such studies are often complex, and it is important to resist the temptation to read into them what we may wish to believe, before our conclusions have been adequately tested.”

The NYT notes that others have looked into this area, including neuromarketers. Read Montague, the director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Baylor College of Medicine, has conducted similar research.

”I keep joking that I could do this Gucci shoes study, where I’d show people shoes I think are beautiful, and see whether women like them,” says Elizabeth Phelps, a professor of psychology at New York University. ”And I’ll see activity in the brain. I definitely will. But it’s not like I’ve found ‘the shoe center of the brain.”’

Or the left-leaning/suburban mom/suv-owning/tough on crime center of the brain either.

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