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Brain Differences In Liberals and Conservatives 1248

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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  • by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @05:38AM (#20550395)
    I'm a liberal and I've always had great difficulty convincing Republicans that I'm right and they are wrong. Thankfully this study tells me that it is because I am smart and they are stupid. Since I am white and male, I look forward to further studies proving women and other races are also inferior to me to explain why they are similarly disobedient. Soon, I hope we shall return to the happy days of the 19th Century where science explained why some people the rulers and others are the ruled. Perhaps we could have a rule where Republican votes count for 3/5ths of Democrat votes, like we did with Negros before the Republicans stirred things up. Or perhaps they could be barred from voting completely, like we used to do for women.

    I also hope that when the country has universal health care it will be be possible to abort fetuses with these cognitive disabilities, just like we do for babies with other developmental defects.

    No, just kidding. This looks like awful science, just like the 19th Century studies that confirmed the experimenter's prejudices that black people and women were inferior.
    • 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?
      • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <william DOT chuang AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @11:02AM (#20553849) Homepage
        Dude. The country twice elected Bill Clinton right before they elected King George. Clinton was a poor kid from the South whose real dad died, and whose step-dad was a mean, drunk SOB who beat his mom up all the time. Life gave him no handouts, and he had to earn everything he ever had. From this background, he became an Oxford scholar. He went to law school and was voted governor of Arkansas. On the national TV circuit, his obvious intelligence and warmth made him the closest thing a President got to being a rock star since Kennedy.

        I have faith in my country that it will find its way again. We are not always prone to electing the rich and powerful only because they are rich and powerful. We rejected Perot, and we'll reject the next guy who wants to be President because his Daddy was President.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by thefirelane ( 586885 )
      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.
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by poor_boi ( 548340 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @05:44AM (#20550439)
    1) Liberals are more likely to smoke pot

    2) Pot smokers are more likely to sit around the house

    3) People who sit around the house are more likely to play video games

    4) People who play video games are more likely to have better hand-eye coordination

    5) ???

    6) Profit!
  • It's maths. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @05:46AM (#20550457)
    The only reason you have a black and white Liberal - Conservative divide in the US is the mathematics of how your electoral system works. Other countries with sane electoral systems actually have shades of grey.

    • Re:It's maths. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Stonent1 ( 594886 ) <stonent@sto[ ]t. ... t ['nen' in gap]> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:28AM (#20551107) Journal
      When you have 2 ruling political parties, it is easy to make things black or white. When you have about 5 or so like many European countries, you have to include intermediate shades of color. That's also probably why there are no run-off federal elections for President.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gordo3000 ( 785698 )
      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??
  • Experimental design (Score:5, Informative)

    by tucuxi ( 1146347 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @06:18AM (#20550671)

    The linked site is scarce on details - the paper itself is more interesting. First, David Amodio (lead researcher) is not obviously flaming. I'm no expert in neuroscience -- but the data looks good, and he has a track record on usage of scans for similar tasks (most of it race-bias related, but that's another subject).

    Here's an interesting part of the experimental design:

    To test the hypothesis that political liberalism (versus conservatism) would be associated with greater conict-related ACC activity, we recorded electroencephalographs from 43 right-handed subjects (63% female) as they performed the Go/No-Go task. Subjects reported their political attitudes condentially on a -5 (extremely liberal) to +5 (extremely conservative) scale. This single-item measure has been found to account for approximately 85% of the statistical variance in presidential voting intentions in American National Election studies between 1972 and 2004 (ref. 8). Among participants in the present study who reported voting in the 2004 presidential election, a more liberal (versus conservative) ideological orientation strongly predicted voting for John Kerry versus George Bush (r(21)= 0.79, P o 0.001).

    I think that there are two ways in which the experiment may be flawed. One is that 43 persons are not enough to extrapolate to the whole US population; and more importantly, no details are given on how they were chosen. If they were chosen among colleagues in an academic setting, where most people (your mileage may vary) are left-wing, you may have problems finding people which self-describe as conservative. These few would be most resistant to changing their viewpoints, I would guess -- since otherwise they may have flipped from exposure to liberal arguments.

    Another way in which I think the study may be flawed is by asking people to self-define their position in the political spectrum -- a one-dimensional political spectrum. What guarantees do you have that participants really are "conservative" or "liberal" (whatever that means to you), and have actually thought about the political issues involved in each "choice" (as if there weren't many, many greys)?. A 2-dimensional political positioning would provide more insight. A short questionnaire where participants actually had to think, instead of "choosing their favorite color" would have been even better.

    This is assuming that the researcher knows what he's doing, and the

    conflict-related ACC activity was indexed by two ERP components. ERPs are scalp-recorded voltage changes reflecting the concerted firing of neurons in response to a psychological event.
    is actually a good measure of resistance to change or willingness to accomodate it. No details are provided on the exact activity, other than stating that parcicipants were offered the choice of two actions, "Go" and "No-Go".

    You can find the full article at the author's lab website [nyu.edu].

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by will_die ( 586523 )
      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 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 Gazzonyx ( 982402 ) <scott,lovenberg&gmail,com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:16AM (#20551027)
    I didn't read the article. I have a long day ahead of me and I don't want to read much about politics. That being said, I'm wondering how they qualified liberal vs. conservative? Especially when you consider that on the world wide spectrum, going from pure communism to pure fascism, even the conservatives in the US are fairly liberal. Our subset of the entire spectrum isn't a very long vector.

    Also, are we talking about ideals, financial, or strictly both to qualify conservative or liberal? My ideals are conservative, but I'm financially liberal; were these things weighted? I'd say my socio-economical class doesn't much lean either way (white male, middle-middle class, 23), so is the question just which side I relate to more?

    FWIW, I don't think binary labels are a good tool for representing an analog chunk of an analog spectrum without assigning weights to aspects that are of a social nature. Does anyone else feel that this entire study ended up with a group of people standing around grinning at their excessive cleverness at the end of the day, while no actual scientific work was accomplished?

  • by jofny ( 540291 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:27AM (#20551095) Homepage
    Most people here assume just accepting new ideas at face value (which is all the study suggested) is a good thing. The article did not in any way indicate that it tested what the evaluative processes that liberals vs conservatives go through before they integrate new ideas into their view of the world. That's a critical thing to know. Frankly, I want people in charge and those voting to have some initial skepticism and to analyze new ideas before they accept them. Just because you hear it or have an initial thought doesn't make it true or valid.

    On another note, the article indicated that they chose "very liberal" or "very conservative". It's entirely plausible that the extremes are there for biological reasons and those who dont "identify" with their political orientation choose that orientation for different reasons (former biological, latter rational thought)
  • by phobos13013 ( 813040 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:47AM (#20551755)
    I love how the strength of people's biases filter through to so control how we think and act in this world. The majority of responses here seem to complain about Democrat or Republicanism or some hardly veiled tack. Take a look at TFA, it purely distinguishes between liberals and conservatives (small l and small c) not Democrats and Republicans. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE. And to assume or extrapolate otherwise is a hugely incorrect step on all our parts. As a matter of fact, the word Republicans isn't even mentioned in the report! Strangely, the word Democrat appears once describing John F. Kerry (which is the most douchebagish way of saying John Kerry...), but regardless. Another important issue, is we cannot link directly to the ACTUAL study in question" [nature.com] (for a separate reason: due to the controlled access of knowledge by academic institutions, which sucks). How do we know truly what the study entails, how the methodology is controlled, etc., without access to the actual paper. This is only possible if you have $30 for the article entry, btw. Nonetheless, as long as Americans continue to automatically draw the line between liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, black and white, etc., as the article quotes the author of the study: "liberals and conservatives are never going to agree". And articles like this do nothing to help. But ultimately, its all our faults for drawing lines in the sand and being so damned stubborn to the detriment of life, society, and wellbeing.
  • Grrr... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @09:30AM (#20552271)
    It is one of those forms of science that annoys me. If I agree with the statement then I give credit for it. If I disagree and point out that say I am a conservative and I think this science is bubkiss then it only proves the science only further. Remembering this is only science and there is statical deviation where most conservatives show a trend of this and liberals show a trend of that. Doesn't mean that a conservative is unable to have a brain the functions like a liberal and vice versa, just more of a trend towards that direction. Sometimes a person is conservative because they spend a lot of time thinking about it and they see the direction that the liberals give is more flawed and in the long run will cause more problems then gains. E.g. Is spending more taxes on a service that has a marginal value vs. not paying the extra taxes and have the person use it towards something that offers better value. Or the opposite can be true, Eg Person A believes that there should be more taxes for government services because they grew up taking handouts from government services and that is the only life they know.
    As for a general trend I would agree with the data but you need to be sure not to go to someone with a republican bumper sticker and assume they are hard nose and cannot learn, or someone with a Democrat bumper sticker(s) (Normally the case with liberals who tend to have more bumper stickers then conservatives) you can assume they will collect information easily and can grasp new concepts easier. Because a trend doesn't equate to people falling into stereotypes, just the fact the dice is weighted slightly to one side.
  • by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @09:51AM (#20552585) Homepage
    Come on, they used a "W". To any conservative a "W" is just a letter. To any Liberal, a "W" means "George W. Bush" to which they have an adrenaline rushed response to any mention or sight.

    In fact, the study almost proves this fact. For both conservatives and liberals their reactions to the letter "M" were nearly identical. Liberals only excelled in targeting the letter "W".

    We pretty much already know that Liberals are very good at targeting George "W".



    This is some of the worst science. Thankfully, it's anti-conservative therefore Slashdot will readily post it in it's slide away from a "science" log to a "politics" log.
  • Short-term quirk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by seebs ( 15766 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @11:54AM (#20554879) Homepage
    In the short term, in America, "right-wing" and "conservative" overlap.

    In general, conservatism is an attempt to preserve existing state, liberalism an attempt to change it, or at least an openness to change. That people who are open to change are open to change is not a surprising result.
  • by Urza9814 ( 883915 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @01:26PM (#20557089)
    So if we know what the difference is between liberals and conservatives...

    Does that mean we can finally fix the conservatives?

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak