Monday, October 22, 2007

Conservatives and Liberals have Different Brains

Sorry for the light posting, I'm working on a few side projects unrelated to the awesomeness that is this blog (Oh yes, I said it).

I've been meaning to write about this for a while. A study by researches and NYU and UCLA, reported in the journal of natural sciences and written about in the Seattle Times, says that a certain part of the brain related to decision making, flexible thinking and problem solving strategies reacted differently between liberals and conservatives. "The brain region in question helps people shift gears when their usual response would be inappropriate, supporting the notion that liberals are more flexible in their thinking."

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative." Scientists instructed them to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in their anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

Researchers obtained the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when they saw W.

The results of the study were not meant to apply to the correctness of either strategy or to indicate the correctness of either political belief (there is no "ideal" brain functioning strategy, so that it is not better to be conservative or liberal when it comes to flexible decision making or vice versa).

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times more likely than conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts and were 2.2 times more likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

Read the whole article here.


freelasabird said...

Most thinking people are by definition "liberal".

The political connotations have skewed the usage of the word.

I can't make heads or tails of this article.

Librocrat said...

It also implies a relaxed attitude towards things, which obviously reflects on decision making choice, and equally so on political affiliation.

Still, the idea that conservativism (and, conversely, liberalism) can be at least partially hardwired into the brain is interesting in itself.

freelasabird said...

yes, but the study is based on people who identify themselves as conservative or liberal.

Those terms have become completely skewed in most people's minds to mean Republican or Democrat.

I just don't like those two labels. They've been skewed and no longer mean anything.

Librocrat said...

It could just be bad article writing though. The question could easily have read: "Do you consider yourself socially liberal (pro-choice, for gay rights) or socially conservative (pro-life, gay rights opponent)"

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but it doesn't seem like what you said would not have been taken into account with serious researchers. The journalist may have simply omitted the specificity of the question.