Politics on the brain: an FMRI investigation.

Kristine M. Knutson*, Jacqueline N. Wood, Maria V. Spampinato, Jordan Grafman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


We assessed political attitudes using the Implicit Association Test (IAT) in which participants were presented faces and names of well-known Democrat and Republican politicians along with positive and negative words while undergoing functional MRI. We found a significant behavioral IAT effect for the face, but not the name, condition. The fMRI face condition results indicated that ventromedial and anterior prefrontal cortices were activated during political attitude inducement. Amygdala and fusiform gyrus were activated during perceptual processing of familiar faces. Amygdala activation also was associated with measures of strength of emotion. Frontopolar activation was positively correlated with an implicit measure of bias and valence strength (how strongly the participants felt about the politicians), while strength of affiliation with political party was negatively correlated with lateral PFC, lending support to the idea that two distinct but interacting networks-one emphasizing rapid, stereotypic, and emotional associative knowledge and the other emphasizing more deliberative and factual knowledge-cooperate in the processing of politicians. Our findings of ventromedial PFC activation suggests that when processing the associative knowledge concerned with politicians, stereotypic knowledge is activated, but in addition, the anterior prefrontal activations indicate that more elaborative, reflective knowledge about the politician is activated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-40
Number of pages16
JournalSocial neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Social Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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