New study shows Liberal and Conservative brains are wired differently.

Here an interesting study on how liberal and conservative brains differ:

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.

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.

So they set up an experiment where they took a bunch of people and presented them with a scenario that involved some form of daily routine, such as driving home from work, which you do so often it’s almost automatic. Then they presented them with an interruption to that routine, say an automobile accident on the road, that required them to respond to the interruption in routine and then monitored their brains with electroencephalographs to see what they could see.

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, 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.

Or one could say that conservatives are just fucked in the head.

OK, that’s probably a tad bit unfair. Still the differences would go a long way to explaining why both sides often look at the other and wonder how in the hell the other side manages to tie their laces in the morning without drooling all over their shoes in the process. I think a lot of folks probably suspected as much to begin with (that our brains work differently, not the shoe thing) so the real question becomes how to we communicate in a way that overcomes these differences in response and results in at least some form of compromise? It would probably help if I didn’t make jokes about conservatives being brain damaged, but it’s what I do.

7 thoughts on “New study shows Liberal and Conservative brains are wired differently.

  1. Well I couldn’t criticize anyone for being brain-damaged but if the difference between liberals and conservatives boils down to neurology, we have a really big problem on our hands.

    This Sunday’s “On The Media” program “The Truth Of False” talked about how people handle myths that they believe are true. 

    What?!  We can’t just bludgeon people with facts and always win?

  2. What?!  We can’t just bludgeon people with facts and always win?

    ‘Fraid not, dof.  Biology, just like each bassoon in The Music Man, will always have its big fat say.

  3. What?!  We can’t just bludgeon people with facts and always win?

    You don’t say rolleyes

    I think what this study shows us, if anything, is that people that tend to be rigid and inflexible, tend to be conservative.  Not the other way around.  I know plenty of conservatives that are young and flexible in their beliefs.  I also know conservatives that have a lot of liberal tendencies.

  4. Les: so the real question becomes how to we communicate in a way that overcomes these differences in response and results in at least some form of compromise? It would probably help if I didn’t make jokes about conservatives being brain damaged, but it’s what I do.

    Don’t compromise on ideas, they need to realise what they are and need to think on what you’re saying, compromise is an easy get-out for them, and would necessitate agreeing to some extent with their principles, which only strengthens their cause in their mind or makes it harder to re-align later. Be firm, you will find a way to justify your views and unjustify theirs if you look for them with determination. Think about ways to give them little choice but to think on what your saying if they want to continue discussing a certain topic.

    It really doesn’t matter to you whether or not they like you unless they’ve got some kind of authority over you, if you want to progress people you’re going to have to conflict with them in order to de-throne their held ideas. Getting them emotionally fired up can make them more attatched to debate if they are passionate about it, but don’t make them feel that you’ve written them off (can be difficult when you’re presuring them) – particularly don’t start with any personal categorisation when dealing with a specific person, let them give you personality evidence to justify it first, beyond the broader category, so they see what is wrong and why, otherwise they’d feel like they’ve been written off just for being what they are

    DoF: but if the difference between liberals and conservatives boils down to neurology, we have a really big problem on our hands

    Nothing necessarily permanent though – all the mind and memory is neurology (so i’m not surprised by the differences), and both can change by restructuring and changing connections (I don’t know how though, that’d be like an electrical circuit rewiring itself), indeed for any change to mindstate, mood, memory, etc, there needs to be a neurological change.

    Webs: I know plenty of conservatives that are young and flexible in their beliefs. I also know conservatives that have a lot of liberal tendencies.

    I suspect that it’s not possible in the long term to remain in conservative stance when you’ve got a liberal mind, their views will be fighting their mind because there would be clashes on certain levels (the liberal mind naturally questions and won’t tolerate views that are held for a lack of logical reason).

    I suspect they were more or less ‘told’ that conservatism is ‘good’ by society before the point where they rebuffed it (as is always the way conservatism spreads, people feel expectations), but given time I think that rebuff will happen when they get to questioning and feel free to rebel.

    Article quote: Conservatives, however, were less flexible, refusing to deviate from old habits “despite signals that this … should be changed.”

    in other words, are more likely to have an inability to handle change. I think the writer had to restrain his words and look neutral, despite what he actually thought (he would’ve expected the result before he chose to compare this, because it does throw weight behind liberalism even if presented neutrally). The counter arguement against liberals as being wishy-washy holds nothing in logical terms, the same as conservative loyalty is also illogical, but that conservatives try to make look good to feel better about themselves.

    With illogical views, conservatives tend to dislike thought because it undermines their ideas, and they’re not used to it and afraid, if they lose the security blanket of being able to get people to like themselves by saying certain things… Many of these people need other people to like them, a lot of them go with the flow because they cannot handle lone ranger

  5. This doesn’t what conservatives did to be classified as inflexible.  I’m guessing liberals tried an alternate route while conservatives waited to move on the old route.  That being said, it’s someone’s opinion which of these 2 behaviors in truly inflexible.  One could argue, being patient with the route which has been researched and tried each trip in spite of an EXCEPTIONAL condition is truly being flexibly minded; while trying to FIX everything at the 1st sign of an exception is TRULY inflexible. 

    I have observed that liberals believe they can perfect that which is inperfect by nature, and end up making it exponentially worse in the process.

  6. That’s a pretty laughable argument, David. Sticking stubbornly to the same course of action is being flexible? Right. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

    As for being perfect, I don’t know many liberals who would claim that.

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