Neuroscience in marketing finds application not only in advertising but also in politics, if one thinks in terms of customers… voters, and in terms of products politicians and / or parties. A very typical example is the election campaign and, finally, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States (2016). Based on an analysis of Trump's political marketing mechanisms, it is now believed that big data 2.0 and neuromarketing techniques have played an unusual role in reading the minds of voters, helping the controversial candidate win one of the most unexpected pre-election victories.
Conscious – Unconscious
Sotirios D. Douklias, a specialist in neuromarketing and neuropolitics, explains to “P” that through the direct use of brain imaging -EEG, eye tracking, monitoring of facial expression, electrodermal activity, response time, respiration and heart rate – with reaction of a voter to a specific political / party / slogan. There are also cases in which the brain responses measured by the aforementioned techniques may not be consciously perceived by the individual. “Political Neuromarketing 2.0 seems to have given political parties and leaders a golden way to overload the voters' amygdala, so that they can bypass the conscious process of political decision-making and make their subconscious want more.” This complex process is often accomplished through highly emotional online micro-targeting policies and advertisements that cultivate political values and products in the subconscious of voters. Some scholars have stated that “emotion comes from the subconscious mind and is absolutely the real reason why brands exist,” notes Dr. Douklias, adding that much research on micro-targeting has been adapted as a strategic process aims to influence voters through the direct transmission of stimuli, which are formed mainly on the basis of their personal characteristics and preferences. “Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign was and will remain one of the most important signs of how much political analysts have information about voters,” he added. Sotirios D. Douklias is the director of the “Noesis Brain & Consumer Neuroscience” Center.
Asked if voters “would agree with their party if it presented a statement that was contrary to their ideological foundation”, Dr. Douklias replied that “it has long been known that, in view of conflicting information about political ideology and group participation” , people tend to follow their group and reject their ideology (at least for a while). ” Team thinking comes first,” he points out. Surveys have shown that during a conflict between one's ideology and party beliefs, people usually follow the party line to the detriment of true ideology. Existing research in political science has shown that citizens' views on politics are influenced by their affiliation with the party that sponsors them. At the same time, there is little evidence that illuminates the psychological processes by which such slogans are filtered. Two possible hypotheses: a) slogans activate heuristic processing to minimize editing effort, and b) party slogans activate group incentive processes that force citizens to support their party's position.
So where are our political decisions based?
In this important pre-election year of the presidential elections in Cyprus, there is a strong interest in understanding what is happening during the voting. It is no surprise that scholars around the world agree that our political views are, indeed, often wrong. We function more as members of tribes than as members of a larger ethnic community. At best, voters make systematic performance errors and are best described as quasi-rational. It means that some of the most important decisions we make as members of society are based on the “whim” of our emotions.
Party slogans are processed by areas of the brain that are usually more involved in emotional reactions than in controlled thinking (logic). In surveys showing that people's choices are influenced by party slogans, participants continue to argue that party slogans are the least influential factor in their choices. The defeat of the preference party can lead to a change in testosterone levels, which is comparable to a loss of personal status at the individual level. Poll results affect many voters, as poll winners are considered stronger than if polls did not show up. Based on this, it is safe to say that people do not make political choices based purely on rational, cognitive processes. Both emotional and social processes are at stake.
How does neuropolitics “hack” the brains of voters?
Technology is now at the forefront of a quiet political revolution. Political campaigns around the world now use people with experience in neuroscience to penetrate the vague emotions of voters. Today's neuropolitical advisers say they can detect voters' emotions by observing their spontaneous responses: an electrical pulse from a key area of the brain, a grimace of a second, or a momentary hesitation as they ponder a question. Experts aim to decode the intent of voters from messages they do not know they are producing. A candidate's advisers can then attempt to use this biological data to influence voting decisions. It is rare for a political campaign to acknowledge the use of neuromarketing techniques. Although it is not certain that the Trump or Clinton campaigns used Neuromarketing in 2016, SCL – the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Trump – reportedly used face analysis to assess whether what voters said felt for the candidates was genuine.
How is strategy built through brain scanning?
Brain, eye, and face scans that target people's true desires may seem dystopian. But, they are branches of a long-standing political tradition: to hit the voters where it matters most. For more than a decade, campaigns have been searching databases of consumer preferences – what music people listen to, what magazines they read – and using algorithms to use this information to target their hidden preferences. Neuropolitics advisors build their strategy around so-called “neuro-focus groups”. In these studies, which involve twelve to one hundred people, we apply EEG electrodes to the participants and then show them videos from a candidate or advertising campaign. As they monitor the subjects, the scalp sensors record electrical pulses that reveal which areas of the brain are being activated. Experts hope to find out the feelings of voters through signals they do not even know they produce. One of the things we can analyze is the process of placing electrodes on a person's scalp to detect activity in the reticular formation, a part of the brain stem that monitors how involved someone is. So if participants are watching a political ad and the networking activity reaches its peak 15 seconds later, it means that the message has really caught their attention at this point. Other areas of the brain also provide important clues. The electrical activity on the left side of the cerebral cortex suggests that people are working hard to understand a political message. A similar activity on the right can reveal the exact moment when the meaning of the message clicks into place. With this kind of information, political campaigns can enhance a message to maximize its surprise: for example, by putting the most shocking moment in the beginning or by cutting off the parts that distract people from wandering. But while imaging the brain remains part of the neuropolitical universe, most neuroscientists say it is not enough on its own. Various biometric techniques, such as eye-tracking, electrodermal stimulation (GSR), and body temperature, are just some of the factors that multiply the validity of the data we receive when analyzing political messages, advertisements. and candidates.
However, it is not possible for each social media user to be monitored individually.
Of course, we can not stick electrodes on every person who watches TV and browses Facebook. But, it is not necessary. Results from experiments in small neuro-focus groups can be used to influence non-sampled voters. If, for example, biological data reveals that liberal women over 50 are scared when they see an advertisement about illegal immigration, campaigns that seek to cause such fear can send the same message to millions of people with similar demographic and social profiles. . In recent years, studies of unconscious prejudice have also spread, revealing secret political trends that would never appear in traditional questionnaires or focus groups.
How different are the brains of right and left?
Asked if there is a conservative or liberal brain, Sotirios D. Douklias replied that we all know people who are strongly attached to their beliefs, even though there is evidence to the contrary. “They can get angry just by listening to the opinions of others who do not agree with them. “Simple experience with such people shows that their ideologies are absolute, regardless of where they fall into the political spectrum.” Dogmatic people, he continued, often describe themselves in this way, claiming to be “cut from a liberal fabric” or “conservative to the core”. “But, the data of the researches so far indicate that this is not true at all”, added Dr. Douklias.
So is no one born conservative or progressive?
The answer is that “there is no liberal center in the brain or a conservative area,” says Harvard psychiatrist Joshua Buckholtz. An extensive U.S. study used data collected from 334 U.S. adults, who were given 37 separate cognitive and 22 personality assessment projects to reveal the “psychological signals of political, nationalist, religious, and dogmatic beliefs.” This huge series of tests is far from the approach of companies today, which use all types of Myers-Briggs knockoffs on employees during awkward team building exercises. In fact, this study involved so many trials that they had to be distributed over a period of two weeks. The vast range of all these data made the study the first of its kind and required special statistical techniques to understand its results. What the data suggest is that extremist ideologies and dogmatic political beliefs are not the red or blue things we imagine, but something born of the gray claws of ambiguity in between – the readings of more basic mental processes, such as how people process information and make decisions for the world. Researchers have found links between these basic mental processes, called cognitively primitive, and the kinds of ideologies that appeal to them. Individuals who were more ideologically extreme and willing to support violence to protect their group were more likely to have difficulty completing complex cognitive tasks that required complex mental steps. New data show that these people compensate for their slow perceptual processing through impulsivity in decision making. When someone says “I'm the X in depth”, what he is really saying is, “I have an extreme intolerance of ambiguity”.
Right – left
As Dr. Douklias notes, politicians use many different techniques in order to retain their traditional voters, as well as to broaden their reach. Unsurprisingly, as we learn more about how the human brain works, the Neuropolitics space is also trying to benefit from this knowledge. “In a first pilot study at Noesis Brain & Consumer Neuroscience, we used neurophysiological data from 20 loyal left-wing voters and 20 loyal right-wing voters. Each was presented with slides of the candidate he preferred, in which he refuted the arguments of his opponent, as well as neutral persons. Participants were able to detect the contradictions between the candidate of the rival party and those of the neutral persons, but were not able to recognize when their own candidate was either lying or misleading in relation to the facts! In essence, the conclusion of our pilot study is that the political brain is an emotional brain. It is not an apathetic computer machine that objectively seeks the right facts, numbers and policies to make a reasoned decision “, explains Sotirios D. Douklias, adding that” logic is a slave of emotion and not the other way around “. It is noted that this research was conducted between September and December 2021. With all the above, it becomes clear that the arena of political confrontation has now changed, as in other areas of our lives, access to data that we did not even dream of before that we would have at our disposal, can provide an advantage in political campaigns, but also in the outcome. “After all, there is nothing more important for a politician than to win.”