Skip to main content

Researchers peer into voters’ brains

Kathleen Hall Jamieson and fellow researchers accomplished what the field of 2008 presidential contenders can only dream of: They got inside voters’ brains. The results of their study were published as an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe the brains of 20 swing voters, the researchers measured responses to the candidates. Subjects wore special goggles to view still photos and video excerpts of speeches. Before and after, they were asked to rate the Democratic and Republican candidates on a scale ranging from “very unfavorable” to “very favorable.” The responses were then compared to brain activity data.

Among the findings: Voters sense both peril and promise in party brands. Emotions about Hillary Clinton are mixed. The gender gap may be closing. Barack Obama and John McCain have their work cut out for them.

Co-authors of the op-ed in addition to Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, were Marco Iacoboni, Joshua Freedman and Jonas Kaplan of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience at University of California, Los Angeles, and Tom Freedman, Bill Knapp and Kathryn Fitzgerald of FKF Applied Research.

Read the article and view a slideshow