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.