How often do you find yourself getting annoyed (or even downright pissed-off) about how “those idiots” are f*$%!ing up our country?

It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative- just watching one minute of FOX news or CNN is enough to trigger self-righteous rants that ultimately get us…..


But, did you know that there’s an evolutionary explanation why we get so fired up and why our country is so polarized about the issues we face? 

The University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute conducted a study a few years ago, where they placed participants in a MRI machine and presented them with counterarguments to strongly held political beliefs such as: “Laws restricting gun ownership should be made more restrictive.” and “Gay marriage should not be legalized.”

When participants were read these counterarguments, researchers observed the various parts of their brains for activity. What they discovered was that the parts of the brain that respond to physical threat also respond to intellectual threats which means that biologically, we react to threatening information the same way we react to being attacked by a predator.

While this makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, it actually works against our best efforts to see eye-to-eye with those who have a completely different worldview than our own…

This phenomena is known as the ‘backfire effect’ in neuroscience.

The Oatmeal recently came out with a brilliant cartoon that explains the backfire effect while at the same time demonstrating it in action.  I highly recommend taking 3 minutes to hop on over to the site to read the entire script.

Once you’re aware of how the backfire effect feels when it’s happening to you, you’ll have a much better understanding of why the political and social divides we’re facing right now in our country are so hard to ‘fix’. In fact, we might say that where we fall short in the effort to heal our divides is in dealing precisely with the backfire effect.

In an upcoming post, I’ll offer what I believe is a viable solution to the backfire effect…. but for now, hop on over to The Oatmeal to read the cartoon.  (Just click on the image below to read the full cartoon)




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