Drew Westen bigraphy, stories - American psychologist and political writer and messaging consultant

Drew Westen : biography


Drew Westen is professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and the founder of Westen Strategies, LLC, a strategic messaging consulting firm. He received his undergraduate degree (B.A.) from Harvard University, an M.A. in Social and Political Thought from the University of Sussex (England), and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Michigan, where he taught introductory psychology for several years.

He is divorced and has two children.


In 2007, PublicAffairs published The Political Brain by Westen. The book has drawn considerable attention in Democratic national circles and is credited as having influenced campaign strategies in a number of races in 2008 and will likely do so in years ahead, as Westen has become prominent as both a speaker and political consultant.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/30/us/politics/30message.html?ref=politics


His academic research is in the cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes that people use to maintain intimate relationships, with a focus on people with personality disorders, who have interpersonal problems. After several years at the University of Michigan, he then moved to Harvard University, where he was professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Chief Psychologist at the Cambridge Hospital. He is unusual among academic clinical psychologists in being both an active researcher and a practicing clinician for 25 years, who has written on what can be learned from both science and practice.

At Harvard University and at Emory, Westen's work has focused on developing and refining the Shedler-Westen Assessment Procedure as a tool for researchers and clinicians to help further the understanding of personality and its disorders. He has contributed to the literature on eating disorders as well as to several others, including psychological anthropology, adolescent psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and social and affective neuroscience.

Much of Westen's theoretical work has attempted to bridge perspectives, particularly cognitive, psychodynamic, and evolutionary. He has published 140 research papers in the scientific literature.http://www.psychsystems.net/lab/type4.cfm?id=400&section=4&source=200&source2=1

He is also a strategic messaging consultant for major nonprofit organizations and a frequent consultant or advisor to progressive and Democratic organizations, including the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses.

In addition, Westen is a frequent commentator on television, radio, in print, and online, most recently as a regular contributor to the opinion page of the New York Times and a frequent writer for the Times' Sunday Review. He also frequently writes for the Outlook Section of the Washington Post, the opinion page of the LA Times, and continues writes occasional pieces for CNN.com and the Huffington Post.

Political bias study

In January 2006 a group of scientists led by Westen announced at the annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in Palm Springs, California the results of a study in which functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that self-described Democrats and Republicans responded to negative remarks about their political candidate of choice in systematically biased ways.

Specifically, when Republican test subjects were shown self-contradictory quotes by George W. Bush and when Democratic test subjects were shown self-contradictory quotes by John Kerry, both groups tended to explain away the apparent contradictions in a manner biased to favor their candidate of choice. Similarly, areas of the brain responsible for reasoning (presumably the prefrontal cortex Westen, Drew; Blagov, Pavel S.; Harenski, Keith; Kilts, Clint; Hamann, Stephan (2006), "Neural Bases of Motivated Reasoning: An fMRI Study of Emotional Constraints on Partisan Political Judgment in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election", Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 18 (11): 1947–1958, , PMID 17069484, retrieved 2009-08-14) did not respond during these conclusions while areas of the brain controlling emotions (presumably the amygdala and/or cingulate gyrus) showed increased activity as compared to the subject's responses to politically neutral statements associated with politically neutral people (such as Tom Hanks).http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060131092225.htm

Subjects were then presented with information that exonerated their candidate of choice. When this occurred, areas of the brain involved in reward processing (presumably the orbitofrontal cortex and/or striatum / nucleus accumbens) showed increased activity.

Dr. Westen said,

None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged... Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want... Everyone... may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret 'the facts.'http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/24/science/24find.html

The study was published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18:11, pp. 1947–58, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Even before the article was peer-reviewed and published, Michael Shermer used the presentation by Dr. Westen as the basis for his July 2006 Skeptic columnhttp://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID=13&articleID=000CE155-1061-1493-906183414B7F0162 in the magazine Scientific American.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine