[Vision2020] Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain

Gray Tree Crab aka Big Bertha gray.treecrab.aka.big.bertha at gmail.com
Tue Sep 11 14:01:20 PDT 2007


*From the Los Angeles Times*
Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain Even in humdrum nonpolitical
decisions, liberals and conservatives literally think differently,
researchers show.
By Denise Gellene
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 10, 2007

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals
tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how
their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience,
scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation
is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more
structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open
to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to
political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

The results show "there are two cognitive styles -- a liberal style and a
conservative style," said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not
connected to the latest research.

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

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 the 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 got the same results when they repeated the experiment in
reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.

Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality
and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results
"provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a
conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity."

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

Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a
single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen.
John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the
2004 presidential race, as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind about the

Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily
accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

"There is ample data from the history of science showing that social and
political liberals indeed do tend to support major revolutions in science,"
said Sulloway, who has written about the history of science and has studied
behavioral differences between conservatives and liberals.

Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York
University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human
behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political
orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting
information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.

Political orientation, he noted, occurs along a spectrum, and positions on
specific issues, such as taxes, are influenced by many factors, including
education and wealth. Some liberals oppose higher taxes and some
conservatives favor abortion rights.

Still, he acknowledged that a meeting of the minds between conservatives and
liberals looked difficult given the study results.

"Does this mean liberals and conservatives are never going to agree?" Amodio
asked. "Maybe it suggests one reason why they tend not to get along."

denise.gellene at latimes.com

Submitted by:
Gray Tree Crab aka "Big Bertha"

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list