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Author Topic: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives  (Read 1642 times)

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Offline alxnjshTopic starter

Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« on: April 11, 2011, 04:04:40 PM »
Very interesting - albeit a small sample and more research is needed, definitely interesting...

Quote
Will President Obama and the House GOP ever agree? Science suggests no
By Holly Bailey
Mon Apr 11, 11:41 am ET

President Obama and House Republicans may have narrowly averted a government shutdown last weekend, but as the two sides prepare to engage in another round of intra-party feuding over budget proposals, a new study suggests that basic brain science might stand in the way of bipartisanship.

Using data from MRI scans, researchers at the University College London found that self-described liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex--a gray matter of the brain associated with understanding complexity. Meanwhile, self-described conservatives are more likely to have a larger amygdala, an almond-shaped area that is associated with fear and anxiety.

"Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual's political orientation," lead researcher Ryota Kanai writes of the study in the latest issue of Current Biology. "Our study now links personality traits with specific brain structure."

Observers will notice a familiar name on the report: Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth, who commissioned the report while serving as a guest host of the BBC Radio 4's Today program in London last year. (Neurological sources of stammering don't come into play.)

The study, which was conducted with the help of 90 young adult volunteers, comes on the heels of other research that linked political beliefs to genetic differences between liberals and conservatives. Last year, a joint study by the Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, found there might actually be a so-called "liberal gene" that influences political leanings.

While the London study does find distinct differences between Democrats and Republicans, its authors caution that more research needs to be done on the subject. One unknown is whether people are simply born with their political beliefs or if our brains adjust to life experiences--which is a possibility, Kanai writes.

"It's very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions," he said in a statement accompanying the study. "More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude."

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2011, 04:12:23 PM »
I'm sorry.. I am NOT buying that there is a 'liberal gene'. (or Conserative one either). I can believe that folks think differently to effect the way their neural wiring works. That doesn't mean we're totally too different to cooperate or compromise.

This gives me the same vibe as the 'Vaccines cause autism' BS that was eventually disproved as faulty science.

Offline alxnjshTopic starter

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2011, 04:37:28 PM »
Hmmm...I'm not sure they're proposing that there's a gene in this case. It's sort of a nature/nurture argument. Notice the second to the last paragraph. Also note they stress that more research is needed. Basically the research is showing that there are brain differences in liberals and conservatives. You can deny that as much as you want, but in these 90 people it was found to be true.

Perhaps people raised in different ideological families may use different parts of their brain and hence develop differently.

Perhaps these same people typically have parents that have a similar ideology which over time does affect genetics.

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2011, 04:44:42 PM »
Hmmm...I'm not sure they're proposing that there's a gene in this case. It's sort of a nature/nurture argument. Notice the second to the last paragraph. Also note they stress that more research is needed. Basically the research is showing that there are brain differences in liberals and conservatives. You can deny that as much as you want, but in these 90 people it was found to be true.

Perhaps people raised in different ideological families may use different parts of their brain and hence develop differently.

Perhaps these same people typically have parents that have a similar ideology which over time does affect genetics.

I can totally believe that liberals/conservatives THINK different. Of course I wonder how you screen folks that 'jump the line' and go to the other side and such. The brain is an organic computer and depending on how a person considers things it would vary between one mode of thinking on issues and another.

I don't like the assumption that all conservatives have a hard wired 'fear' center that is larger and that liberals are more suited 'complex' thinking.

I don't think either side has a claim for 'better thinking' or 'more fearful'.

Without seeing what stimuli they are using or what sampling method they acquire for their studies I really can't see how it could be so easily tracked.


Offline Jude

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2011, 08:29:39 PM »
The study itself does not surprise me.  There are a lot of psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists who contend that conservatives and liberals have quite different patterns of thought.  I decided to do some due diligence, and the study is published in a peer reviewed journal, Ryota Kanai is a respectable scientist from what I can see, and the sample size isn't too small (90 isn't that bad actually).  Where the bullshit comes in, is the description of the structures of the brain.

The Amygdala is not about "fear and anxiety."  It's a structure of the brain that is in part used to store emotional memories, primarily those that are associated with fear, anxiety, or conditioning.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing; it can lead to the formation of biases which are baseless in reality (racism, sexism, irrational fear of certain things like socialism) or it can lead to enhanced memories about what does and does not work as a response to dangerous situations.  The Amygdala also has an effect on memory modulation, which is the process of transcribing things form short term memory to long term.  Basically the effect is that the stronger the emotional tie to that event, the more it is emphasized.  Again, this can be a good thing and a bad thing:  it's a mechanism of confirmation bias and a way of ensuring that important things about the past are not forgotten (which is one of the key roles of conservatism).

The ACC isn't as well understood.  There's a lot of contention about what it does.  Some people believe it plays a role in feeling negativity about one's own errors, but others think that's inaccurate and it's actually centered around reward-based condition.  If you take the latter view, a whole lot of politics can be boiled down to positive reinforcement versus negative reinforcement.  Unfortunately that's much too simple of a view.

Bottom line is, we don't know enough.  We don't know how these portions of the brain being emphasized effects their processing, what they actually do 100%, and how it affects us.  I wouldn't get too worked up about this, but it does seem to be solid science.

Online Vekseid

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2011, 04:53:37 PM »
The summary is here, if you want to pay $32 you can even buy it.

I hate journals -_-

Quote
Substantial differences exist in the cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives on psychological measures [1]. Variability in political attitudes reflects genetic influences and their interaction with environmental factors [[2] and [3]]. Recent work has shown a correlation between liberalism and conflict-related activity measured by event-related potentials originating in the anterior cingulate cortex [4]. Here we show that this functional correlate of political attitudes has a counterpart in brain structure. In a large sample of young adults, we related self-reported political attitudes to gray matter volume using structural MRI. We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala. These results were replicated in an independent sample of additional participants. Our findings extend previous observations that political attitudes reflect differences in self-regulatory conflict monitoring [4] and recognition of emotional faces [5] by showing that such attitudes are reflected in human brain structure. Although our data do not determine whether these regions play a causal role in the formation of political attitudes, they converge with previous work [[4] and [6]] to suggest a possible link between brain structure and psychological mechanisms that mediate political attitudes.

Highlights
► Political liberalism and conservatism were correlated with brain structure ► Liberalism was associated with the gray matter volume of anterior cingulate cortex ► Conservatism was associated with increased right amygdala size ► Results offer possible accounts for cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives

The article Alx quotes to seems to be sourced from here:
http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/political-views-tied-brain-structure/story?id=13317961

Kanai's statement regarding the amygdala being:
Quote
"Individuals with a large amygdala are more sensitive to fear," and might therefore be "more inclined to integrate conservative views into their belief system," Kanai and colleagues wrote. "On the other hand, our finding of an association between anterior cingulate cortex volume and political attitudes may be linked with tolerance to uncertainty" -- which may allow people to "accept more liberal views."

This reminds me of various treatises on authoritarianism, which is also largely driven by fear, anxiety and uncertainty. If it's driven by physical brain structure than it's unusually plastic - people can and do 'get over' being authoritarian. People can also drift into authoritarianism when in shock, or are desperate. People can also be shocked out of authoritarianism but that's not as reliable.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2011, 05:08:53 PM »
Perhaps the size of the various brain structures is linked to the usage of those structures during the formative years (up through 25, if I remember brain development right).  Later on, while the number of neurons may be larger, the amount of activity in the specific structure may change as a person's views change.

In other words, someone who is raised in a conservative environment and adopts a conservative mindset may have a physically enlarged right amygdala.  However, if that person changes their viewpoint and becomes a staunch liberal, the anterior cingulate cortex may show increased activity (viewed with fMRI or PET scans) and the amygdala may show decreased activity, despite being larger than 'normal'.

Offline Trieste

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Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #7 on: April 13, 2011, 09:01:28 AM »
I think probably the labels of 'liberals' and 'conservatives' are misleading. They are self-applied labels, which depend on the area of the country from which you hail. For instance, I'm pretty darn conservative by Massachusetts standards, while I'm pretty darn liberal by Florida standards. I've lived in both states and felt the difference.

And then there is the question of, "Liberal in regards to what?". After all, you can be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. You can be a conservative when it comes to gun control and liberal when it comes to welfare. The blanket terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' are not enough. And it certainly doesn't hook up with any political party; there are conservative Democrats (we have one in the Oval Office) and there are liberal Republicans (Scott Brown comes to mind).

While brain scans in themselves are very interesting and it's nice that they are trying to study the difference between different peoples' brains, they need to be more rigorous or their study means nothing.

Offline Jude

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #8 on: April 13, 2011, 09:17:04 AM »
I was surprised that they didn't use the somewhat-established titles they've come up with for political leanings instead of Conservative and Liberal.  The political "archetypes" here are definitely much more descriptive:

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dan_kahan_the_american_culture_war_of_fact/

Offline Noelle

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2011, 06:26:00 PM »
This is a British study done about a political rating that varies dramatically from country to country. The American liberalism is not the same as the European one.

I call sensationalized science BS all over this.

Offline Jude

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2011, 08:01:57 PM »
This is one of the problems with science reporting in the media.  When a study like this is done it's typically intended as an exploratory exercise to establish a few ideas which can then be tested as the body of evidence grows.  In the grand scheme of things scientists will treat the conclusions reached by those who performed this study as nothing more than a new hypothesis to be tested with further inquiry in narrow, better controlled experiments.  Unfortunately, this is not how the media reports on exploratory studies at all.  To them every study which has the potential to be controversial, revolutionary, or counter-intuitive is broadcasted as a groundbreaking realization.

This may be a groundbreaking study.  Further inquiry may build upon their exploratory efforts to show that Republicans and Democrats do have fundamentally different brain chemistry, with a Republican emphasis on the Amygdala and a Democratic emphasis on the ACC.  I would not be shocked, and currently this is the best supported conclusion given that this is not junk science.  However, a scientifically accurate opinion is one where your confidence in the hypothesis is equal to its degree of confirmation (Bayesian Statistics).  This is confirmed, but not very, so the scientifically correct position here is to accept it with some misgivings and admit that more research is needed.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2011, 08:03:27 PM by Jude »

Offline Event Horizon

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #11 on: April 15, 2011, 12:23:42 AM »
The biggest problem in this: what is the relevance of studying the brain functions of said liberals in contrast with said conservatives? What are they postulating with this? It just feels a bit unethical. It's like that research that looked for disparities between Caucasian, African and Asian brain structures. Do we really wanna go there?

And yes, the sheer idea that the complexities of the political sphere can be simplified enough into this one dycotomy well enough so that neurological studies can be sounds a bit ludicrous.

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #12 on: April 15, 2011, 12:40:22 AM »
The biggest problem in this: what is the relevance of studying the brain functions of said liberals in contrast with said conservatives? What are they postulating with this? It just feels a bit unethical. It's like that research that looked for disparities between Caucasian, African and Asian brain structures. Do we really wanna go there?

And yes, the sheer idea that the complexities of the political sphere can be simplified enough into this one dycotomy well enough so that neurological studies can be sounds a bit ludicrous.

This is a UK study? Oh-kay..there is a BIG difference in Conservative/Liberal outlooks between there and the US. Not as big as comparing modern Republican and 1930's era GOP members but a noticeable difference.

Offline Event Horizon

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #13 on: April 15, 2011, 01:02:13 AM »
This is a UK study? Oh-kay..there is a BIG difference in Conservative/Liberal outlooks between there and the US. Not as big as comparing modern Republican and 1930's era GOP members but a noticeable difference.

Trieste put this perfectly. People often use the words "Liberal" and "Conservative", without putting them in context, to differentiate political parties that are each alternatively liberal and conservative in different regards. Confusion ensues. 

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #14 on: April 15, 2011, 01:08:40 AM »
I find this largely uninteresting. I take most neurobiology with a grain of salt these days as (1) we are in the middle of a revolution in our understanding of neural plasticity; and (2) we are currently trying to fit long-ignored glial cells into our narrative of neurotransmission.

It's way too late for me to check data, so I will trust Jude's due diligence and assume that the data checks out. Even in that case there is no good way to say what this portends. At the moment we cannot say that there is a causative link, or even do more than guess at which way that counterfactual link would flow (brains structure -> politics; politics -> brain structure;  brain structure <-> one of the many other factors correlated with politics <-> politics; etc). Further, there is no way to say whether the change in mass is due to greater concentration of neurons or glial cells or what subtypes of each are involved (and in the case of numerous glial subtypes there is not a fully characterized functionality).

In short the only thing this study shows is what it says in the thread title: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives. Attempting  to get anything else from it involves baseless speculation. This is novelty science.

Offline Callie Del Noire

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #15 on: April 15, 2011, 01:14:58 AM »
I personally think there are waay too many variables at play to definitively point to the effects on the brain. Would one side be more fearful when the opposition is in control or so on. The brain handles a HELL of a lot of input and the variables for something like this isn't as cut and dried as the article seems to point out.


Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #16 on: April 16, 2011, 01:01:10 PM »
Not buying the idea of genetically predictive heritage that might decide, on its own, any major part of the bearer's political beliefs or his/her ethical framework. People aren't 'born liberals' or 'born Nazis' any more than they are born destined to a particular language (though they may be born into an environment that makes it 98% likely that they will have English or Chinese as their mother tongue). Anything that matters in our political (or religious) ideas will develop out of an interchange between the concepts we acquire - whether these are taken over, without questions, or deliberately and creatively worked out by oneself -  and the experiences and issues we encounter during our lives.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2011, 01:06:15 PM by gaggedLouise »

Offline Oniya

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Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #17 on: April 16, 2011, 01:29:38 PM »
I agree.  Plus, I would seriously doubt that these brain structures have reached their full development - or even have significant variances - in newborns. 

Offline Kate

Re: Brain Scans Differ in Liberals and Conservatives
« Reply #18 on: April 24, 2011, 11:49:00 PM »
if true this could be explained culturally

the brain does rewire and does create more neurons (most dont think it does but it does)

If the liberal / capitalism philosophy is in power ensuring stays so / juggling such a thing could take more energy
(as things broken or poorly made need constant maintenance and tending).

If you believe something against the grain which is held in high regard in your culture
- there is always a fear of it being seen as an extremist / commy and enemnity being directed your way

=> Cultural adaption.

What things mean / reality itself is relative, an truly objective perspective is a myth.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2011, 02:33:49 AM by Kate »