Brain Imaging Shows the 'Unspoken Truth' About Politics

Brain imaging shows what voters really think, which isn't always what they say.

Jan. 7, 2008 — -- Candidates invest blood, sweat and tears, not to mention millions of dollars, trying to get inside the minds of voters. But what if instead of turning to polls, they could turn to neuroscience to find out what voters are thinking?

Lucid Systems, a cutting-edge marketing research company, gave ABC News' senior political correspondent Claire Shipman a look inside voters' mind with brain imaging technology.

Lucid used a cap with electrodes to monitor people's brain activity as they looked at candidates' pictures and watched a debate on TV. In many cases, what people say and what their brain shows don't match up.

Red at the back of the brain means a voter likes what he's hearing.

One undecided New Hampshire voter insisted he likes Republican Sen. John McCain and Democrat Sen. Barack Obama equally, but as he looked at a picture of Obama, more red showed up during brain imaging, meaning he actually feels more positive about Obama.

The Unspoken Truth

And brain waves showed how a group of undecided New Hampshire voters felt as they watched the Democratic candidates' debate.

At one point, Sen. Hillary Clinton got worked up and took a dig at Obama. "I want to make change but I already made change," she said.

The brain waves, shown graph-style as red and green waves in a system developed with BIOPAC Systems, showed they liked that moment.

"As a president, you want someone who is tough," said voter Ed Colbert.

Clinton's humor worked as well. But when Obama responded to her with a somewhat snide comment, brain waves showed a huge negative response.

"It just shows Barack doesn't like her very much," said voter Jean Taylor.

In another surprising result, the voters praised John Edwards when he said, "We need a president who believes deeply in here," and touched his heart.

"You could see he felt really really strongly," Effie Sorrentino said.

But in fact, the imaging showed they weren't emotionally moved. Once they were told the results, the voters dug deeper about how they really felt.

"For me the fact that he uses emotional words was very nice, but again, how does that translate into an action?" Carla Tolomeo said.

Lucid likes to call these kinds of responses the "unspoken truth."

"As we grow up and learn to be politically correct we learn to use judgment to say the appropriate things. All these other layers are covering the unspoken truth," said Fernando Miranda, the founder and chief science officer of Lucid Systems.

This kind of technology could help predict the kind of gut-level, emotional responses people have to candidates that could make them actually pull the lever.

"Come Election Day, that kind of emotional feeling when he has to make a decision will probably weigh pretty heavily in the decision," said Lucid founder and CEO Stephen Genco.

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