So, even though we are not left with a very conclusive picture, Iacoboni notes, "the fact that we have three hypotheses is better than having a thousand."
And the researchers concluded that of those three hypotheses, the one most likely to be carrying the heaviest load is suppression of unpleasant emotions. "Unpleasant emotions, unpleasant feelings, are always unpleasant," Iacoboni says. So, suppression of those emotions, which is part of the job of the parts of the brain that lit up during the scanning, "is the most probable psychological process."
The participants were trying to go easy on the other guy, although they may not have known it at the time. Biology was at work here, and it's not always clear how much of a decision is based on facts, and how much is based on biological processes. That's part of what the researchers are trying to determine.
At the end of the experiment, the participants completed a questionnaire, asking them to rate on a scale of one to 10 how strongly they felt each of the following emotions while viewing each candidate: pride, relief, excitement, connection, delight, happiness, hope, understanding, respect, pleasure, fear, sadness, anger, shame, disgust, disappointment, contempt, despair, hopelessness and anxiety.
Not surprisingly, the Democrats weren't happy with the Republican candidates, and the Republicans weren't happy with the Democratic candidates. But the questionnaire revealed that the Republicans could stomach Kerry better than the Democrats could accept Bush.
The Republicans had more of a problem than the Democrats with Nader.
In the end, as we all know, Bush won, so at least some negative feelings must have been suppressed.
If you're a Republican, that's good.
If you're a Democrat, blame it on biology. There's more at work here than meets the eye.
At least we now know that underneath it all, we really want everybody to be nice.