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The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,480 ratings  ·  153 reviews
The Political Brain is a groundbreaking investigation into the role of emotion in determining the political life of the nation. For two decades Drew Westen, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University, has explored a theory of the mind that differs substantially from the more "dispassionate" notions held by most cognitive psychologists, political scientists, ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published July 1st 2007 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2007)
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Dec 08, 2008 rated it liked it
The book started off in superb fashion-tossing out psychological gems like candy to the reader, but the grotesque bias that clouds an otherwise intelligent person makes this a difficult read and an awful philosophy.

Westen starts off by mentioning a study in which participants showed how people rationalize blatant contradictions by their favorite political candidates. When the participants found a way to keep their candidates in good standing, the "happy circuits" in their brains lit up like a C
This book could have been titled, "How Liberals Can Be More Effective When They Stop Relying on Facts and Begin to Understand Emotions of the Masses and What Drives Decision Making."

I am a diehard liberal and really needed to read this book. Throughout his entire argument, Drew Westen drove home one point: If any candidate or voter is going to be effective in swaying anyone, at all, to vote for a particular candidate, they will not successfully do that by providing potential voters with only fac
May 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In the 2004 Presidential election, George Bush beat John Kerry by “Swift Boating” him. Karl Rove, Bush’s campaign strategist, recruited a group of military veterans of the Republican far-right persuasion, who formed a group called “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” and attacked Kerry for allegedly lying about his military record commanding a patrol boat in Vietnam and for collecting a Purple Heart Medal for a trivial wound. The star witness in the Swift Boat TV ads was a man who claimed he had actu ...more
Nov 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The thesis of this book is that voters make choices based on emotion ("gut") rather than on logical reasoning, and that Republicans understand this and use it to advantage in their ads and speeches, while Democrats, who believe that their policies and stands are the logical ones, emphasize the issues rather than emotions and thus fail.

It's hard to disagree when the facts are presented so, er, logically :-) especially as it explains why lower-income whites repeatedly vote against their own financ
Denitsa Simeonova
Sep 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The book’s simply awesome, but also “scary” for the newbies exploring the topic. It’s explaining by examples and in understandable manner not only how emotions could be triggered in marketing and political campaigns but also in our day to day social interactions. A great read.
Aug 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People concerned with politics and humans
I'm still in the middle of this, and though I like it, I'm a bit concerned about some of the language of the book. However, these issues aside (and lets see if they are answered by the end of the book), I would recommend this to everyone running a democratic campaign, as I think there are some excellent lessons to learn from this book.

Current questions:
1. what's with the uber masculinist language? is this the brain scientist speaking or the southern man?
2. has he just taken thagard without any
Mar 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I echo Robert Kuttner's and Bill Clinton's comments : This is the most illuminating book about American politics I've ever read. The author is a clinical and theoretical psychologist who also has an incredible intuitive understanding of politics and the political mind. He argues that Democratic political strategists, like most economists, political scientists, and others, have been captive to a view of the mind that drastically underestimates the role of emotion, as opposed to rational calculati ...more
Daniel Clausen
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read parts of this book as part of a discussion group. The discussion group presented parts of the book as mini-posts. I didn't get to finish the book, but I loved the main point--that politicians should fashion stories that draw on primevil needs and emotions. ...more
Martin Smrek
Sep 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great reading for everyone, who believes that campaign communication should be targeting the rational brain and be based on proposed policies (as I did before too). The book is mostly focused on US political landscape, but the principles can be easily applied in other campaigining areas too. Especially the first part of the book which focuses on the neurology and evolution of our brain, the role of emotions in decision making, and how political decisions of voters are being made. The rest is a v ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
The book lays out the universal way we see and develop our beliefs concerning the world in the realm of politics. The first third of the book was masterful when the author stuck to the science (mostly neurosciences) that sway us in the realm of politics. He makes his points and does a good job at bringing home the importance of neurosciences in the realm of marketing and politics. We often are not aware of the networks that are activated or are unaware of our emotional states that we use unconsc ...more
Pat Simen
Jul 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book is absolutely fantastic. It combines the stuff that I work on in my research (how emotion affects decision making) with an analysis of failed Democratic political campaigns of the past. Aside from Clinton's successful campaigns, this guy Drew Westen really seems to nail what went wrong with all the presidential campaigns against Republicans since LBJ. Namely, that Republican campaigners know what voters respond to, and Democratic strategists frequently don't, and that is: how to mold p ...more
Heather Denkmire
Mar 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Ever wonder why otherwise intelligent people even consider supporting Sarah Palin? Why the "left" doesn't really exist anymore? Why Obama is considered "liberal?" Why the Right is RIGHT when they accuse progressives of flip-flopping and having no values?

Progressives haven't been paying attention to what it means to be human. That is, we have been stuck in the Enlightenment's view of the mind. The mind, the brain is not a dispassionate vehicle seeking facts and reason. Even reasonable and rationa
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Written by an Emory psychologist who does consulting work for the Democratic Party. The central premise is that to run a good campaign, you need to understand that voting decisions are made based on emotions, not (only) facts. Politicians that understand how to activate emotions win elections. This doesn't have to be unethical (in fact, he makes an argument that to ignore emotion is to be pretty unethical).

One of the best books about politics I've ever read. Reminded me that (1) psychologists ar
Paul Jellinek
Nov 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Drew Westen, an Emory University pshycologists, uses brain mapping and other neurological measures to demonstrate conclusively that politics is all about emotion. He then shows just as conclusively how Democratic candidates and strategists have missed this point for decades--at great cost to their own fortunes and the nation's. Eminently readable, this book was required reading among Democratic candidates and strategists in 2008. The result speaks for itself. ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Aug 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
My gut instinct would be to award this 3.5 stars. It's a great political campaign manual for what it offers, but after two degrees in Political Science and over twenty years of teaching politics & government, much of this feels old hat and too much stating-the-obvious. The large use of psychology and sociology also doesn't earn it any points with me, as I truly dislike psychology and sociology. That said, in the end I push it to 4 stars because of it's primary message: the centre-left (and US De ...more
Brayden Raymond
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a lot. Not in a bad way. A great way. To me, reading this was like a big "A ha!" Moment as if all the political teachings I have had until this point led to this and being able to understand it. Ive known for years how to debate issues, but this exposes the extremely important role that emotions play on the political landscape and how emotional responses/messages can make or break elections. Drew Westen showed me that I could one day have all the 'right' answers to the questions/issues b ...more
Jerrod Carter
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great study and how our brains work when processing political information. It is definitely written from a strong left-wing worldview, which may make it hard for a right-wing worldview readers to accept or process well. But, if you can look past the politics, the underlying information is fantastic. I would love to see an updated version with even more recent politics.
Steven Peterson
Oct 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
The dust jacket has one line that is at the center of this book: "The idea of the mind as a cool calculator that makes decisions by weighing the evidence bears no relation to how the brain actually works." Drew Westen uses this thought as a takeoff point in his book, "The Political Brain." He asserts that (page xv) "The political brain is an emotional brain."

One point that he hammers throughout the book is that Republicans do a better job of connecting with voters at an emotional, gut level tha
Apr 23, 2008 rated it liked it
Although the author is long-winded and less clever than he thinks he is, he advances a timely and compelling argument that intelligent politicians, and democrats in particular, need to change up their political game. In short, they need to avoid coming across in interviews and debates as a cerebral policy wonk (Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry) and emotionally connect with the average American (Reagan, W. Bush, and hopefully Obama). This isn't an earth-shattering revelation, but the author takes the app ...more
Cynthia Huntimer
May 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
I agree with the author that most people make political decisions based on an emotional as opposed to a rational basis. I also agree that the Democratic party has made a mistake by refusing to deal with some issues in a thoughtful and nuanced way. I enjoyed his extensive use of political speeches and advertising to illustrate his points. I found his ideas about activating the associations of voters very compelling. He is a psychologist and uses many brain imaging studies and other types of empir ...more
May 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was great. It identifies how Republicans have manipulated the American public successfully enough to create the Reagan- George W era, and how Democrats have been brain dead, hoping that reason will prevail over an electorate that is voting on the basis of emotion. If Democrats get their mind around this, it will be tough to be a Republican and be taken seriously, which ultimately should help rebalance and reform the Republicans into something more than ideologues.
Aug 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: political junkies or progressive candidates for political office
THE best book on understanding how the brain and politics collide.

An absolute primer for progressive or Democratic candidates. It's really a book about marketing yourself and your ideals as a candidate.

The brilliant read of the audiobook by Anthony Heald makes this book even more special. I've had several friends who've bought the audiobook and thought it was above par.
Jan 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Terrific book. Easy to read. Very accessible and far too relevant. I wish more Dems were listening to this guy.
Jul 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Great read -- for anyone who wants to learn about more strategic campaigning, from a psychological point of view
Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: decision-making
Interesting cognitive psychological take on the power of political narratives.
Marcus Watt
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Mandatory reading for the political junky
Todd Martin
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Theory of Rational Choice states that individuals make a decision after evaluating their options in terms of costs and benefits. The rational individual then selects the option or outcome that provides the maximum net benefit. For example, in economics the rational consumer evaluates the merits of various products and selects the one that best meets their needs after taking cost into consideration. One can see how this theory would also apply to politics, where the voter selects the candidat ...more
Ameya Warde
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
SO IMPORTANT. And fascinating! I wish I could make everyone with even a passing interest in politics read this. I feel like I understand Americans & our party system infinitely better now... for better and for worse. I've never been a fan of the GOP, but I had no idea how very consciously the party has crafted the psychological strategy they have used with unbelievable accuracy and success to control the minds of the public, even those on the left who hate the GOP-- it's amazing to see how much ...more
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
Really enjoyed this book and learned a lot; which is why 5stars.

One of the quotes that still resonates strongly today: “Today Democrat’s and Republicans seem like two species living in parallel universes unable to speak the same language...”

I was aware of emotional manipulations by just about any other human being and more so by politicians but didn’t really know how much it is strategically been used to earn votes. Loved how Westen highlights the differences between the emotional parts of brai
Mike Clarke
Mar 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Political science: I can hear Drew Westen’s voice speaking throughout this book - measured, polite, furious. He seems determined to counterpoint Bill Maher’s observation that “one party has all the monopoly on anger...John Bolton’s hair’s not speaking to his mustache...the Democrats speak softly and carry Massachusetts.”

But it is to Stephen Colbert we must turn for an illustration of why The Politicial Brain is necessary. On The Colbert Report: “did you know you have more nerve endings in your g
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Drew Westen is a professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

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  As dedicated readers already know, some of the best and most innovative stories on the shelves come from the constantly evolving realm of...
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“The road to victory is paved with emotional intentions.” 3 likes
“In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins” 3 likes
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