The brain neurons of liberals and conservatives fire differently when confronted with tough choices, suggesting that some political divides may be hard-wired, according to a study released on
Aristotle may have been more on the mark than he realised when he
said that man is by nature a political animal.
Dozens of previous studies have established a strong link between
political persuasion and certain personality traits.
Conservatives tend to crave order and structure in their lives, and
are more consistent in the way they make decisions. Liberals, by
contrast, show a higher tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, and
adapt more easily to unexpected circumstances.
Thinking like your parents did
The affinity between political views and "cognitive style" has also
been shown to be heritable, handed down from parents to children, said
the study, published in the British journal Nature Neuroscience.
Intrigued by these correlations, New York University political
scientist David Amodio and colleagues decided to find out if the brains
of liberals and conservatives reacted differently to the same stimuli.
A group of 43 right-handed subjects were asked to perform a series
of computer tests designed to evaluate their unrehearsed response to
cues urging them to break a well-established routine.
"People often drive home from work on the same route, day after day,
such that it becomes habitual and doesn't involve much thinking,"
Amodio explained by way of comparison in an e-mail.
"But occasionally there is road work, or perhaps an animal crosses
the road, and you need to break out of your habitual response in order
to deal with this new information."
Using electroencephalographs, which measure neuronal impulses, the
researchers examined activity in a part of the brain - the anterior
cingulate cortex - that is strongly linked with the self-regulatory
process of conflict monitoring.
The match-up was unmistakable: respondents who had described
themselves as liberals showed "significantly greater conflict-related
neural activity" when the hypothetical situation called for an
unscheduled break in routine.
Conservatives less flexible
Conservatives, however, were less flexible, refusing to deviate from
old habits "despite signals that this ... should be changed."
Whether that is good or bad, of course, depends on one's
perspective: one could interpret the results to mean that liberals are
nimble-minded and conservatives rigid and stubborn.
Or one could, with equal justice, conclude that wishy-washy liberals
don't stick to their guns, while conservatives are steadfast and loyal.
As to the more intriguing question of which comes first, the
patterns in neuron activity or the political orientation, Amodio is
reluctant to hazard a guess.
"The neural mechanisms for conflict monitoring are formed early in
childhood," and are probably rooted in part in our genetic heritage, he
Environment plays a role
"But even if genes may provide a blueprint for more liberal or
conservative orientations, they are shaped substantially by one's
environment over the course of development," he added.
Obscuring causal links even more is the fact that the brain is
malleable and neural functions can change as a result of new
experiences. – (Sapa)