Campaign Ads And Brain Waves

Finally today, the story was right there on the front page of "The New York Times," but I am still not sure I believe it.

Political consultants have hired medical researchers at UCLA to give people MRI exams to measure their brain waves. Why? To gauge their reaction to campaign commercials. They haven't figured out yet if Republicans and Democrats have different kinds of brains, but they have determined that they seem to react differently to campaign commercials.

When Democrats, for example, saw those Bush commercials that showed coffins at ground zero, there was activity in the part of their brains that senses threats, as if Democrats subconsciously believed the commercials would help the president. The Republican reaction was more passive.

The consultants believe reading brain waves will help them know in advance how people will react to their campaign ads, putting science into political science, they say.

Well, isn't that swell? If Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had based their warnings about the Nazis on brain wave readings of their people, they might have remained silent because no one wanted to hear what they were saying in the beginning. They wouldn't have remained silent, of course. As men of courage, they knew there was no choice but to tell people what they did not want to hear. And would Lincoln have rewritten the Gettysburg Address if he had known in advance what the audience reaction was going to be? I doubt it, because he wanted to express his ideas, not the audience's.

What the researchers are missing here is that the whole point of politics, the whole point of government, is to improve the lives of the governed. There is no other reason for it. Reading brain waves won't add science to politics. It's just another scheme to figure out how to tell people what they want to hear, not what they want to know or need to know.

By Bob Schieffer