The L.A. Times
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.
Who’d have thunk it? Academics found that the liberal brain works better!
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 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 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.
And now comes the triumphalism:
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 conflict.
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.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever known anyone who started out life as a liberal, but changed into a conservative (or, God help us, the reverse).
Congratulations! You were witness to a change in someone’s brain!
My definition of a liberal: someone who falls for a B.S. study like this.