Type: Research fellows

Debate Brain

How political debates change the way we think



The Challenge

Coverage of the presidential candidates is everywhere and in abundance. How does the media’s portrayal of the 2016 presidential election influence a voter’s choice to support one candidate over another?


The Approach

To answer this question within such a large media landscape, we are zeroing in on specific pieces of evidence (debates) and how they inform decisions (social media support, donations, votes). Spearheaded by HI Fellow Jason Sherwin, we are using a neuroscientific approach to examine political decision making. A sample population of eligible voters, under media lockdown, are set up with an electroencephalogram (EEG) which records their neural response to live debate clips frame by frame. Following each clip, the voter is given a quick-response survey that tracks which candidate they support, how they would support him/her, and how long it takes for them to make this decision. The combination of this data gives us a larger insight into the root of the political decisions made by the voter.


Our Vision

We are already able to see how attentive a voter is during a clip, noticing when and what makes a participant have a particular neural response. Once we get closer to the election, we will look for how these neural responses relate to candidate preference and voting patterns in real time, linking specific features of political narratives to outcomes in the voting booth.