Sunday, March 27, 2022

It's not what your think but how you think that makes a difference.

There are various polls which attempt to elicit the public's opinions about executive performance of the Federal government and the popularity of the President..

There are meta questions that might be asked such as what is the purpose of these polls, what are they attempting to measure, and what do the measures indicate?

Charles M. Johnston, the cultural psychiatrist who heads up the Institute For Creative Development, and who wrote a wonderful book, Perspective and Guidance For A Time Of Deep Discord, teaches that it is not what people think but how people think that is the basis of the problems we are seeing in our increasingly polarized country and world.

While polling may give us some indication of what people think, although this claim is debatable, they do not inform us about how they think. Cognitive science studies have found that people who are called "conservative" and "liberal" think differently and even may have different brain structures that can be identified on brain scans.

Along this line of thought one might want to know why people think the way they do - is it nature or nurture or a combination or something else?

The human brain is hard wired for dichotomous thinking with the amygdala, fight/flight/fright adrenaline activating region of the brain, being most basic in our emotional and behavioral response until the prefrontal cortex can take over the emotional arousal and provide a cognitive analysis and assessment.

If polls are used to predict how people will vote by triggering them with "hot button" issues the responses will vary based on the activation of the amygdala and the individual's ability to self regulate their emotional arousal until the prefrontal cortex can provide the ability to analyze and choose a deliberate and purposeful way of proceeding.

If the goal is to help people better vet political candidates for their vote, it seems that polling is not only not helpful but is actually harmful as is negative campaigning. What is a better way to assess a person's deeper feelings, beliefs, and thoughts about a political topic? There are some methods that have been developed and utilized. Two might be focus groups and caucusing as they do in Iowa and ranked choice voting that is being experimented with in some states.

The idea of encouraging dichotomous thinking for a democracy is dysfunctional and leads to authoritarianism as we have seen in recent years and social media has made it worse because social media often is more amygdala activating which Donald Trump and others have mastered. Social media does not lend itself by virtue of its format to thoughtful thinking. If we are to move our democracy forward we can find better ways to interact and communicate with each other, and educating people about the limits and pernicious effects of polling would be a step forward.

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