Study finds liberal and conservative brains function differently

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      Is the liberal brain different from the conservative brain? A recent study published in the scientific Journal Plos One suggests so.

      In Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans, researchers at the University of California at San Diego have found that among test subjects “converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs.”

      The study shows that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes to assess risk, with liberals showing increased activity in the brain’s left insular cortex, and conservatives in the amygdala of the right temporal cortex.

      After analyzing the brain functions and reactions of 82 American test subjects—classed by voting record as either Democrat or Republican—the study found that “conservatives demonstrate stronger attitudinal reactions to situations of threat and conflict.”

      “In contrast, liberals tend to seek out novelty and uncertainty. Moreover, Democrats, who are well known to be more politically liberal, are more risk accepting than Republicans, who are more politically conservative.”

      While this may not settle the age-old nature versus nurture debate, it’s clear the authors don’t think ideology is necessarily hard-wired at conception.

      Although heredity (or at least family tradition) is important—“partisanship that includes mother’s and father’s party accurately predicts about 69.5% of self-reported choices,” says the study—the brain is complex enough to allow for developing attitudes and beliefs. 

      “Changes in cognitive function,” say the researchers, “can lead to changes in brain structure.”

      In other words, there is still free will.


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      Helena Wish

      Feb 20, 2013 at 5:40pm

      Yeh, life experience steps in at some point.

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 20, 2013 at 6:46pm

      Using the same criteria (voting history) for differentiating the two areas of study, select the test subjects from purely representative cross-sections of society and give them IQ tests.
      Concerns about the reliability of such tests aside, the results will--but, really, should not--surprise many.

      R. Craigen

      Oct 20, 2013 at 12:40pm

      As Churchill is reputed (probably apocryphally) to have said, "If you're not a Liberal when you're young you have no heart ... and if you're not a Conservative when you're old, you have no brain". Many liberals do grow up, though a remarkable number don't realise until some life crisis that they have, in fact, been conservatives for many years.

      Fortunately, another interesting statistic is that Liberals reproduce at a lower rate, so evolution is on the Conservative side.