Why the Brain Chooses Politics Over Science
Who could blow off the world’s most respected scientists and turn to politicians for advice on surviving the coronavirus? Humans, that’s who.
If supermarket clashes over wearing masks and White House attempts to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci aren’t enough to convince you that the coronavirus crisis has gone political in America, a new study breaks it down.
From March through May, researchers at NYU, Yale, and MIT used geotracking data from 15 million smartphones per day to see who was following epidemiologists’ guidelines for social distancing.
What they observed: While all counties in the U.S. experienced a drop in movement and visiting nonessential services, the counties that had voted for Donald Trump in 2016 exhibited 14% less physical distancing than counties that voted for Hillary Clinton. In turn, reduced physical distancing in pro-Trump counties was associated with subsequently higher Covid-19 infection and fatality growth rates.
How could anyone choose politics over medical experts to make life-and-death health decisions? Science (if you’re into that kind of thing) can explain.
It starts with the way humans are wired to trust, bond, and defend our groups.
Research has revealed a lot over the past 30 years about the workings of parts of the brain that drive those processes. Some of the newest studies have focused on the hormone oxytocin. Produced by the hypothalamus on the center-base of the brain, oxytocin is stored in the portion of a pituitary gland the size and shape of a garbanzo bean.The posterior lobe releases oxytocin into the bloodstream at different times, like when we’re falling over-the-moon in love.
We’ve known for a while now that oxytocin promotes bonding, but neuroeconomist Paul Zak, PhD, was among the first to report that it also plays a role in trust. He’s a bit of a TED celeb for a 2011 talk in which he described his 2004 research.
Zak and his colleagues gave teams of strangers in different rooms opportunities to give each other money back and forth via computer. After each transaction, researchers drew blood from participants to measure their oxytocin…