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High Tech Finger On Voter Pulse

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AP
The "patient" is rolled into a magnetic resonance imaging machine and shown a battery of political commercials that play inside the goggles he is wearing. Outside the machine, neuroscientists carefully monitor the flow of blood in his brain as the visual images flash before his eyes.

It's the latest in political science, the New York Times reports. The researchers note which areas of the brain are active as the commercial are shown. And yes, Democratic and Republican voters do react differently, though the meaning of these differences is a matter of speculation.

Two Democratic political consultants and a psychiatry professor at UCLA have teamed up to unlock the secrets of the brain for political purposes. The trio is deeply skeptical of the methods political consultants now use to do this.

"It seemed so last century," Prof. Joshua Freedman told the Times. "Consultants were quoting Freud as if it was cutting edge. It was all about interpretation instead of using new technology to measure what's actually happening in the mind."

Freedman and two consultants, Tom Freedman (Prof. Freedman's brother) and William Knapp, have formed a company to pursue the new approach to political mind-reading.

They have so far tested 11 Democratic and Republican subjects - not nearly enough to reach any definitive conclusions. Nevertheless, the researchers are puzzling over differences that have emerged between members of the two parties.

For example, when Democrats are shown images of 9/11, there is considerable activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that reacts to danger. The same reaction was noted when the Democrats were shown "Daisy," a famous Democratic 1964 commercial that shows a little girl picking petals off a daisy just before a gigantic nuclear explosion flashes on the screen.

There was much less activity in the amygdala when the Republicans were shown the same images.

So what does this mean? Political consultant Freedman theorizes that Democrats are more disturbed by the use of force than Republicans. At this point, it's anybody's guess.

While this kind of research is brand new to political advertising, it might
draw a yawn on Madison Avenue. The Times reports that so-called "neuromarketers" have used brain imaging to measure consumer response to various commercials.