Friday, September 10, 2010

Manchin v. Raese: Psychology behind the ads

United States Senate candidate Joe Manchin released his first TV spot to counter opponent John Raese’s accusations. But was Manchin’s spot effective?

Believe it or not, the Democratic and Republican parties produce campaign ads that appeal to different sections of your brian. Your brain has a part called the cerebral cortex, which takes up about 80% of our entire brain mass. The area from behind your eyes and about a couple inches past the top of your forehead is called the prefrontal cortex. This section is then divided into two parts; the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (which runs toward the top and sides of the prefrontal cortex), and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (which runs behind the eyes and approximately half way up the forehead).

The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is active when we make conscious decisions, as well as consciously remembering phone numbers or what to pick up at the grocery store, conducting cost/benefit analysis, and reasoning. Traditionally, Democratic campaign ads target this section of the brain. In Manchin’s ad, he’s speaking directly to you in a rational manner, hoping you’ll make the rational choice when you go to the polls on November 2nd. But, if viewers are just flipping the channels and aren’t in a state of mind to make a conscious decision, this ad becomes ineffective.

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is positioned around where the amygdala is located in the brain, which is heavily involved in the emotional processes we go through as humans. Other mental processes the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is involved with include; emotional and social intelligence, moral functioning, linking emotions with thoughts, like when emotions guide the decisions we make. Raese’s TV spot links Manchin’s name with President Obama’s, which arouses negative feelings inside voters. Also, the background is of High Street in Morgantown, the number one growing area in wild, wonderful West Virginia right now.

While subconsciously manipulating voters’ minds through campaign psychology is extremely unethical, I don’t see it stopping any time soon


  1. good information. campaign ads have come along way from years past with this exact type of thinking and voter appeal. i would like to be a fly on the wall in the strategy meetings for each before producing these ads. thank go we still have the free voting process in our country. cant wait till november to see which side prevails !!!!

    kirk riffe

  2. "Subconsciously manipulating voters minds ... is extremely unethical." Are you kidding me?! Isn't that the obvious purpose of all advertising. Surely someone with such an understanding of the brain who works at an ad agency isn't just figuring that out.

  3. Yeah, I thought that's what people do in advertising - manipulate people's minds. Buy my product, vote for me, use our services - that's why people advertise. Manchin was trying to manipulate as much as Raese, are they both unethical? You are stretching it a little there in my opinion.