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Brain Differences In Liberals and Conservatives 1248

Posted by kdawson
from the thinking-differently dept.
i_like_spam writes "Scientists from NYU and UCLA report in Nature Neuroscience that the brains of Democrats and Republicans process information differently. This new study finds that the differences are apparent even when the brain processes common information, not just political topics. From the study, liberals were more likely to be accurate and showed more brain activity in the region associated with analyzing conflicts. A researcher not affiliated with the study stated, liberals 'could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.' Moreover, '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... as a flip-flopper.'"
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Brain Differences In Liberals and Conservatives

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  • Re:Just In! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by MikeFM (12491) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @05:39AM (#20550405) Homepage Journal
    What about people like me that are a little of each and some of neither?

    Does their study show why Conservatives want to blame all their problems on Mexicans or why Liberals are a bunch of pansies that want to back out of a war we need to win and can win? Or maybe they can say why neither conservatives or liberals are really open to a real discussion about much of anything - they all would rather spout off about their idealology rather than actually working together to study issues and come up with real solutions.

    To me the study just seems to indicate that Conservatives are dyslexic. As if we didn't already know that Bush had some sort of speech disorder. Doh.
  • by MikeFM (12491) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @05:45AM (#20550453) Homepage Journal
    Something that bugs me is the number of people, liberal and conservative alike, that really believe that just having wealth proves you're more intelligent than the average person and deserve to be in a position of leadership. They don't take into account that some people are born more privledged than others and therefore have an easier path to wealth, that some people have fewer morals to get in their way, or that some people are just lucky. A lot of people really do believe we should be ruled by our corporate overlords even though they think it'd be horrible to be under the thumb of a monarch. To me, that seems to be one of the issues of mass hysteria that is common in todays society. Someday will people be looking at us as if we were idiots in the way we look back at people that let themselves be ruled by monachs and tyrants?
  • Re:Just In! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JordanL (886154) <jordan.ledoux@nospAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @05:47AM (#20550467) Homepage
    This isn't as bad as the UC Berkley study which basically tried to 'scientifically prove' that Conservatives were mentally impaired... using taxpayer dollars.

    I also wonder just what they mean by "Conservative". Ron Paul is the candidate that has made the most sense to me so far, and most consider him FAR right... course most of those people don't know the different between conservative and libertarian, but still.
  • Re:Just In! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JoelKatz (46478) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @06:07AM (#20550599)
    How much do you want to bet that if Conservatives had scored higher for accuracy, the story would be about how Liberals process information faster.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @06:24AM (#20550709)

    I think we may safely extrapolate ...
    Ah... One of the clarion calls of great science.

     
  • by Protoslo (752870) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @06:29AM (#20550737)

    Fine submissions like these cause me to wonder if perhaps the recent upswing in anti-kdawson sentiment isn't entirely unjustified...

    The headline and summary was so priceless that I just had to read TFA. I assumed that TFS had as usual grossly mischaracterized TFA. This was, however, not the case (yay L.A. Times!). The thing that jumped out at me was that this study was conducted on a bunch of college students (i.e. undergrads looking for extra credit in intro psych classes) at UCLA and NYU. If you consider the percentage of liberal students at UCLA, I wonder if there might not be just a tad of selection bias inherent here...not to mention the libertarian objection that the political spectrum is poorly characterized in a linear fashion.

    Although I couldn't find the original paper, this other article [chicagotribune.com] (no registration with google referrer) was more informative, quoting someone who actually was connected with the study, and another psych professor who points out that this study (of 43 students) might not be the pinnacle of statistical rigor.

    On the other hand, I guess we can feel fully justified in drawing conclusions about conservatives students NYU and UCLA ;). I know that my own alma mater can count Ann Coulter, for one, amongst the 15 or so of its alumni who were strongly republican as undergrads...Ironically, this study will probably promote its own conclusion, though, when Prof. Amodio becomes the core of a republican talking point on the apparent liberal bias of America's university faculties.

  • by thefirelane (586885) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @06:57AM (#20550911)
    This looks like awful science, just like the 19th Century studies that confirmed the experimenter's prejudices that black people and women were inferior.

    False... because liberal/conservative is self-selecting. So it is completley different than the studies you cite because it doesn't mean one causes the other, just that they correlate.
  • by TheRealSync (701599) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:04AM (#20550955)
    I would like to see the results from a comparative study of the people here in Denmark (which is a capitalistic democracy, despite the public healthcare system, free scholls and stuff like that) - compared to the politicians here the liberals and democrats are both right-wing conservatives.
  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:26AM (#20551083)

    "Awful science"? How so? Care to point out the flaws in the study?

    Hmmmmmm?
    I will point out the flaw, "conservative" and "liberal" are subjective labels. How do you objectively decide that someone is conservative or liberal? Do you go by their self identification? If so, how do you select your candidates? Are the subjects of your study representative of all people who self identify that way? I can go on. There are so many variables about people that trying to determine differences in cognitive ability based on political leanings is junk.
  • Re:Just In! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bhima (46039) <Bhima...Pandava@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:28AM (#20551103) Journal
    Hating the French and Mexicans is high fashion among the Dixie Republicans and Midwesterners, I doubt they even know why. However they lack the ability to successfully identify the objects of their derision. On a recent trip to Atlanta, GA I was confronted by a few women bemoaning the fact that my family were a bunch of wetbacks here on the dole, and couldn't even be bothered to learn the language. This was wrong on a number of different levels: I am an American Citizen, as is my Daughter. My Girlfriend is Cambodian. We are all legal residents of Austria. My girlfriend had a tourist visa (as we were on holiday). We were speaking German between ourselves and I was trying my best to translate. Despite having lived in Atlanta for a number of years in the past, I was absolutely amazed to be subjected to this sort of hate.
  • by will_die (586523) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:30AM (#20551117) Homepage
    Provided that the sampleing was random 43 people is enough to extrapolate the US population with a 99% certainty.
    The certainity is that 50% +- 20% will answer the way this report is saying.
    However that this scientific report got published and as much newspaper coverage as it is and will be getting certainly indicates that it is possible.
  • by thegnu (557446) <thegnu AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:32AM (#20551127) Journal

    and this means that conservatives have difficulties to gasp changes and understand new ideas (nothing new here).

    No, it means that they find button pushing more interesting and worthwhile of effort.

    In this vein of reasoning (thanks for digging the groove for me to glide along so easily), it means conservatives read about something (study, presidency, war), and think, "man, I'd be good at that!" then get there, and they get explained what they have to do, and about 3 minutes into it, they start doing a poor job, even though they committed to it and they're getting paid. They think things like, "boy, this is hard work!" and "you can't be expected to be accurate all the time."

    For example. Think before you troll. I'm not even really into the liberal/conservative social split we have going in our culture. But as another posted pointed out, Conservatives seem to be pretty good at reconciling being a gay-bashing homosexual. Yes, there are things that are detestable about liberals, but we've got the neo-cons, the page-fucker, the anonymous gay sex guy, and my republican acquaintances are completely steadfast in their support of 'their' people, even when they can provide zero reason.

    A great rationalization I've heard goes something like this:
    Guy 1: Do you agree with Bush's policies?
    Republican voter: I agree with his morals
    Guy 1: Yes, but what about his policies?
    Republican voter: I believe he's a very moral man.

    I shit you not, a real conversation I've overheard. This goes far from condemning all republicans, but I've heard things in exactly the same spirit that are exactly as shocking from lots and lots of people.

    Again, think before you troll, please. You upset me. :)
  • Re:It's maths. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gordo3000 (785698) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:43AM (#20551217)
    what you meant to say is the only reason it seems like we are black and white in the US is because you are too lazy to actually see the spectrum that exists. While to generally be elected in most areas you have to run as one of the 2 parties, that means very little as to the division of power.

    here is a hint, talk to a democrat in NC. Now go talk to a democrat in california. see how many divisive issues they agree on.

    but wait, they both voted democrat so they must be the same, right??
  • Re:Just In! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gorshkov (932507) <admgorshkov AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:46AM (#20551233)

    I have no doubt that you as a person are not. However as a non American I must ask what did you think of the treatment of the French. Who disagreed with US policy and have the American media and public ridicule them as a country of cowards and idiots. Even tho I dont like the French(Ive had to work with them :) ) I found this behavior fairly appalling.
    To be perfectly blunt, when you are as obviously self-serving, hypocritical, smug and condescending as the French were (are?), that's sort of the political equivalent of finding a "Kick Me" sign and taping it to your own back. When you make yourself THAT easy a target, you shouldn't be surprised when people take pot shots.

    I'm Canadian. I remember Degaule's "Vive le Quebec Libre" speech in Quebec City. I'm very familiar with their behaviour during WWII, and their behaviour since then. I remember their obstructionism in NATO during the cold war. As far as I'm concerned, the French don't get half the ridicule that they deserve.
  • Re:Exactly (Score:2, Interesting)

    by allthingscode (642676) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:06AM (#20551363)
    No. As an older person who goes to college, I can tell you that college doesn't change political beliefs, nor are college students open to more ideas than the general population. Other studies have shown that college students are more likely to have a particular political affiliation, conservative or republican, than the general population.

    Don't let the fact that the article was pointing out differences between liberals and conservatives mean that one is better than the other. While I, as a liberal, prefer being open to new ideas, sometimes you can be so open to ideas that you can be led over a cliff.
  • by A coward on a mouse (238331) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:23AM (#20551533)
    Rabbinical Judaism is about as close to the Temple- and Blood-sacrifice-based old Israelite religion as Christianity. Rabbinical Judaism is maybe a hundred or so years older than Christianity, and wasn't a dominant factor in Judaea or elsewhere until the destruction of the Temple in CE 70, 30-something years after the end of Jesus's ministry. I think it's a lot more accurate to say that Rabbinical Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are basically the Israelite prophets with some bits added on top. Christianity is certainly not a descendant of Rabbinical Judaism, but a (very slightly younger) sibling to it. Islam arose too far away in time and space from all three (Temple Israelite, Rabbinical Judaism, Christianity) for its relationship to the others to be either clear or simple. I think it's fair to say that Rabbinical Judaism and early Christianity influenced each other's development in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The claim of Rabbinical Judaism to be the sole legitimate descendant of the Temple relies more on people's foggy notions of the differences between the Priests and the Rabbis than on any historical or theological argument. Either way, what we know of today as Judaism was brandy-spanking new when Christianity got started; characterizing Christianity (or Islam) simply as an offshoot of the Judaism we know today is a gross and irresponsible oversimplification.
  • Re:liberals (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dr. Blue (63477) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:40AM (#20551707)
    It's funny how different people see different things when they see the word "liberal". From your post, it looks like you use the fairly recent association of "liberal" with "big government". When I see "liberal" I think of the traditional meaning - the root is the same as "liberty", and liberals of the classical kind (I condider myself one) are generally more in favor of individuality and individual responsibility (exactly what you associated with conservative).

    Your conclusion that urbanized people have a "greater comfort level with shifting responsibility/authority to the government" is another thing that doesn't jibe with my experience. Urban areas do tend to be more liberal - and in any major city there is much, MUCH more diversity and individuality than in rural (or suburban) settings. I would argue that people in cities are *less* likely to be comfortable with the idea of shifting authority to government.

    Just look at the current political situation - on which side of the political spectrum is this administration, which has done more to grab government authority than almost any other administration in history? Can you imagine a liberal president saying he/she has the right to lock someone up indefinitely just because they say so? Can you think of anything that is more "government authority" than that level of autocratic control over someone's personal liberty?

  • by Aczlan (636310) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:50AM (#20551785)

    If a stove burns you every time you touch the hot burner, do you stop touching it and get called a flip-flopper, or learn from the mistake and stop touching it?
    I might do some research before touching the stove in the first place thus be able to stick to my guns on an issue and not flip-flop... over and over and over.
    See here for some examples [slate.com]
    Aaron Z
  • Re:Why?! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bhima (46039) <Bhima...Pandava@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:54AM (#20551829) Journal
    I have lived my entire life as an immigrant, a family of defectors running from the Czech communists.

    My whole life I've had jingoist assholes hate me because I was not born where they were born. I've had redneck racist assholes stutter with confusion when they discover that just because I am white doesn't mean I am 'from around here' and share their racism.

    I've spent my whole life trying to learn languages of where I am living and I've got to tell you languages aren't my thing I'm no good at any of the ones I speak. I've then had racists hate me because I spoke English with accent different from their accent... and they can barely speak ONE language.

    Both my girlfriend and my daughter have had racists hassle them based on skin colour and accent in the US and not in Europe.

    You have a whole branch of your family gone? That doesn't does make you special, that makes you average... well over half of members of my family who were living in the 30's were killed either during WWII or shortly after and you don't hear me using as an excuse to hate.

    You say "the gov't wants me to let go of my culture and my country to a bunch of pricks that can't even follow the simplest of laws to get into the country!" This is the height of racist BS. No immigrant wants you let go your 'culture' (such that it is) they want to rid you of your hate. The US government does not want people to abandon culture or country affiliation, they have simply forbad you commit crimes motivated by the hate you have. People like you make me glad I took my family and my money to Europe.
  • by tucuxi (1146347) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @09:03AM (#20551929)

    No. As an older person who goes to college, I can tell you that college doesn't change political beliefs, nor are college students open to more ideas than the general population. Other studies have shown that college students are more likely to have a particular political affiliation, conservative or republican, than the general population.

    Yes, but depending on the college, the prevailing political opinion may be heavily slanted towards one side. That would certainly skew the results, as people who couln't make their minds for themselves would be answering with locally "righteous" ideology, and cases of those who did not cave in would be more extreme (either because they felt strongly about their options, or because they stuck to their choice out of being stubborn). My wild guess is: predominantly liberal college, few conservatives to choose from, most happened to be headstrong.

    Repeat the experiment with a different distribution to check for this bias, or quiz people on their political views instead of allowing them to tick a box.

  • by JWW (79176) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @09:32AM (#20552297)
    You can choose to label it what you want, but the version of "socialism" in question would be called "conservative" in most first world nations.

    Yeah, thats the scary part.

  • by Cro Magnon (467622) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @10:47AM (#20553547) Homepage Journal
    The problem I had with Kerry's "flip-flops" is, his changes of mind were little more than sticking his finger in the air to see which way public opinion was blowing. I'd rather have a President that has his own values and sticks with it.

    Though, I will admit that sticking with stupid failed strategies is also bad. We really need someone who has values AND the ability to learn from mistakes.
  • Re:Exactly (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thebonafortuna (1050016) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @10:50AM (#20553615)
    Wish I could mod this up. As somebody who just graduate from college, and who has a number a friends who have also graduated over the last few years, I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I remember around a year or so ago, I had a friend who moved down to Florida and started a job after graduating from Lehigh. His words were, almost exactly "your political beliefs really do change after you graduate. I was pretty liberal in college, but it didn't take long after leaving to start get more republican (I assumed he meant 'conservative')"...and such, don't remember how the rest went. This has been a pretty common theme among friends I've had these kinds of conversations with. While I don't submit this as representative of the general population, I can honestly say I haven't met anyone who got more liberal after graduating from college. Not fiscally, anyways.
  • Re:Just In! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @10:55AM (#20553711) Journal
    "Time was, 6% was considered full employment." - George Will

    He was referring to pre-Reagan days. Now Democrats themselves get bent out of shape over 6% unemployment as everybody "knows" it should be sub-4%. Guess why? It wasn't just because Reagan "meant well, at least".
  • Re:Why?! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JeanPaulBob (585149) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @11:34AM (#20554495)
    And yet you want them forced at gunpoint back into those hard situations?

    1.) There are no simple answers.

    2.) I honestly don't know the best way to handle people who are already here. It might work to simultaneously make the immigration process easier and then require illegal immigrants to go through it if they want to stay. Or something along those lines.

    3.) By "hard situations", we're not talking about war-torn refugees, we're talking about lower standards of living. Depending on how low...possibly, yes.

    4.) That their desire to bypass the system is understandable doesn't mean eliminating the system is the best thing. I sympathize with a poor man who steals food to improve his hungry family's situation, but my solution is not to make it effectively legal to do so--my solution is to ensure there are better ways for him to help his family. (And yes, to exercise discernment and mercy in the punishment.)
  • by Rob Y. (110975) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @12:03PM (#20555075)
    The reason Bush can stick to his positions so easily is that his positions amount to a pack of carefully packaged lies.

    Take the Bush tax cuts for example. He wanted the tax cuts, and he wanted them slanted to favor the very rich. We know that much, if only because that's exactly what he got. But his position (lie) was (depending on the day):

    . We're running huge surpluses far into the future. In that light, it's immoral to collect so much in taxes.
    . We're in a recession, only tax cuts for will save the economy. (and only the *same* tax cuts for the rich that happen to be the least efficient at fighting a recession)
    . I'm giving a few hundred dollars in cuts to lots of middle class families, so most of my tax cuts go to middle class families. (even though in total dollars most of the money goes to the top few percent by a huge margin)
    . Taxes on dividends amount to immoral double-taxation (even though Corporations take enough deductions to never pay taxes on the money).
    . Repealing the inheritance tax will save family farms that would otherwise be lost.

    On any given day, Bush's position was for tax cuts. But his rationale was all over the map. Likewise, his rationale for invading Iraq was all over the map (i.e. he was lying). The only difference is the *real* rationale isn't quite (oil?) as obvious (oil?) when it comes to (oil?) Iraq.

    I was listening to Bill Kristol the other day explaining how invading Iraq was *still* the right thing to do, because the sanctions were going to come off. What the interviewer neglected to ask him was "who was pushing for the sanctions to come off and why"? I never heard anybody publicly call for that, but I'll bet some big Oil patch donors wanted it. So what Bill really meant was Republican beneficiaries of Oil interests were unable to resist their benefactors' requests to remove the sanctions, so we needed to go to war to destroy the regime so it was safe to remove the sanctions.
  • A good point (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Toonol (1057698) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @12:56PM (#20556345)
    A good point I saw elsewhere about this article: Liberals are more likely to be women than conservatives are. Thus, a simple liberal/conservative split would probably introduce a sexual bias into the measurements, and there are major differences between how men and women process information. Was this test controlled for gender?

    There are racial and social class drivers of political ideology as well... there's a number of potential problems with this test.

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