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'Brain dissection:' presidential candidate edition

Everything else has been dissected this election cycle – why not the candidate’s brains?

Everything else has been dissected this election cycle – why not the candidate’s brains? In honor of Halloween, anthropologist and author of the Newsweek article “Who Has the More Presidential Brain?”  Doctor Helen Fisher joined The Cycle for what sounded like a mad science. Dr. Fisher combined hormones and politics to explain the genetics of power in Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and in voters.

Dr. Fisher breaks down humankind’s primary styles of thinking and behaving into four universal brain systems: testosterone, estrogen, serotonin, and dopamine systems. These four systems carry with them unique characteristics and traits that Fisher describes in both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. For instance, she points out that both men have high levels of testosterone - no surprise considering some of the main traits of the system include an being analytical, tough-minded, direct and determined to win.

According to Fisher, Mitt Romney out-testosterones his Democratic opponent in that he is logical, strategic, competitive, data-driven, and “rank-oriented.  He expresses less empathy, which is linked with more testosterone.” Obama, on the other hand “seems to be more expressive of the estrogen system, as well as testosterone. He’s emotionally expressive, sees the big picture, contextual, holistic minded, very good people skills, very good verbal skills, quite imaginative, all linked with the estrogen system.”

While it’s interesting to see brain science and genetics play out on an individual level, Steve Kornacki wonders if these same systems can be used to describe party mentality as well.

“There’s a lot of studies actually of the basic studies of the conservative and the liberal and what I've found is that conservatives really express more of the third system, the serotonin system. Linked with serotonin in the brain is being very conventional, being more cautious, being methodical, orderly – I mean look at Romney’s hair, he is orderly. They follow the rules, they respect authority, and religiosity is in the serotonin system. And you see all of those more in the republican, sort of, zeitgeist. People who tend to be Democrats score higher in the dopamine and the estrogen systems. They see the big picture but they’re also more risk-taking. Obama, one of his advisers did not want him to drop in on Bin Laden from the sky and he did.”

But at the end of the day while all of these systems are characterized by certain exemplary traits, “a good president should have all four.”