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Democrats Republicans Science

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 dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @05:57AM (#20550529)

    Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

    this means that liberals actually think about what they do and are more accurate because of it.

    M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter. [..] Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said.

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

  • Re:Just In! (Score:3, Informative)

    by bhima ( 46039 ) <> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:14AM (#20551007) Journal
    In comparison to global political ideology Ron Paul is "Far Right". In comparison to the rest of the candidates (from both parties) for the 2008 United States presidential election he middle of the pack. He is also libertarian and this is what separates him from the Authoritarian candidates (This is all of the Republican candidates and all but two of the Democratic candidates). Conservative vs Liberal Ideologies and Libertarian vs Authoritarian are orthogonal ideologies.

    So it makes perfect sense to call Ron Paul a far right conservative libertarian because these are exactly his political ideologies.
  • by ErroneousBee ( 611028 ) <ku.oc.kcocnahlien:lien> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:16AM (#20551023) Homepage
    Well spotted.

    The paper is still in the preview part of natures website, so I couldn't get to the full text.

    David M. Amodio has done similar trials, where responses are timed (otherwise, the subject could just take their time and get a 100% hitrate). Heres an example where latencies are measured. I have assumed a very similar method was used in both experiments. []
  • by cronus42 ( 624403 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:23AM (#20551067)
    Book I, lines 261-263 of Paradise Lost.

    "Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
    To reign is worth ambition though in hell:
    Better to reign in hell, that serve in heav'n."

    Have you ever read Milton, Captain?
  • by unapersson ( 38207 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:30AM (#20551591) Homepage
    Only non-native English speakers says "maths". It's "math", or if you must "mathematics" Carry on.

    What you mean non-native English speakers like people who live in England? "Math" is an American English thing and sounds off to a native English speaker.
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @08:44AM (#20551729)
    Only non-native English speakers say it's "math". Because only Americans say it's "math".

    Native English speakers. That'd be those from England and the nearby related nations say "maths".
  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @09:04AM (#20551941) Homepage Journal
    That's the whole point. It is against the law to enter the USA without following certain procedures, and therefor, those that do not follow those procedures, are breaking the law, and are criminals. It's pretty cut and dry.
  • by greenguy ( 162630 ) <estebandido@gmaE ... m minus math_god> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @09:10AM (#20552011) Homepage Journal
    I'm disappointed that no one has quoted David Hume yet:

    "Not all conservatives are stupid, but it is true that most stupid people are conservative."
  • by psmears ( 629712 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @09:22AM (#20552175)

    Only non-native English speakers says "maths". It's "math", or if you must "mathematics" Carry on.
    Wrong. Native English [] speakers say "maths". Where are you from?
  • by LEgregius ( 550408 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @11:00AM (#20553795)
    Kerry once sent a letter to a constituent saying that he was for the war and always was, and the same month sent a letter to the same constituent saying he was against it from the beginning. Kerry seems to just say whatever sounds good at the time. That not uncommon with politicians, but it makes it really hard to know what they'll actually DO.
  • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (gnauhc.mailliw)> 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.
  • by WheelDweller ( 108946 ) <> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @12:24PM (#20555435)
    I can't tell you how many people I've talked to that thing Don Rumsfeld is the devil himself...or at least he was until he left. But what they couldn't tell me....none of them, in fact, was what he did _wrong_. There was nothing, in fact: just the media trying it's best to demonify each and every thing the Bush Adminsitration did. I got "He's not one of us" and "He's not American" and "I forgot", but clearly this was nothing more than programming.

    Carl Rove: same thing. Tom DeLay, same thing. In fact almost each and every person, drawn to such passion as if to spit on me, just because I asked the question, couldn't respond with an answer.

    Guys, they're selling it as "First Amemendment Radio" and "The Truth" and all that, but there are some things you need to know.

    1. There are no "Neo-Cons". There is, and has always been only one kind of Conservative. Use of the word helps me spot 'bots' every time.

    2. The Gulf War was shut down by the UN, who called George Senior, and was told "You're angering the Arab street" by killing their entire army in the Senior told Schwartzkopf to end the fighting....and that's where it lay, all the way through the Clinton Administration, with a cease-fire. However, Saddam fired 492 SAM missiles at our aircraft, any one of which could have restarted the war, but Clinton was a very 'don't rock the boat' kind of administration.

    3. Yes, Oil was a big part of the war. But face it: without oil, we'd all live on farms. Because of oil, we get to live other lives, and the oil brings the food to us in various forms. Do you know how we stopped Hitler's armies? Not by hitting the factories, but by stopping the flow of oil to the Panzers. It will stop all of us, too, if it stops. There's nothing wrong with this. (Other than we're so dependent on it.)

    4. Oil profits was not what the war was about; oil was cheaper when we didn't have to fight for it. Had we been 'French' about Saddam's rage against the common man, the mutilation and us looking the other way, fuel would have been cheaper. But stopping the man that could stop the flow of oil at competitive rates- that had to happen.

    5. We didn't just go to war; our men sat in tanks that were 130 degrees out in the sun for EIGHT MONTHS getting 'permission' to go to war. And Senator Rockefellor went out to the Middle East, talking to, of all people, Saddam Hussien, saying "He's going to war; we're not gonna be able to stop him!" So what's so freakin' hard to understand that Saddam moved his NBC materials to Syria, where he sent his Foxbats, hoping to outlast the war? How is that so hard to believe, and instead we should think it was merely a lie? It wasn't a lie when Kerry, Hillary, Bill, dozens of other senators all said the same words, leading up to the attack on Saddam that never came....

    6. No, not an inside job. You just can get 30-40 people to open holes in concrete, wrap retaining wires around structural parts of the building, planting dynamite, and have business go on inside, completely unaware. It would take weeks. To think this possible is just insane.

    The power of this programming is so powerful that Sean Penn took himself all the way to Iraq and stand in front of weapons stashes, not school kids, to be a human shield. (He came home with his tail between his legs when he learned the truth...) And Rosie O'Donnell has screamed, "It's an inside job: fire doesn't melt steel!"

    ( there anything *else* that melts steel?)

    My point in this is that despite the Democratic National Committee and George Soros, they're trying to split us apart again. On 9/11 we were unified. But the DNC doesn't need us all being happy Americans- it needs Democratic voters. So, Bush became the terrorist, Saddam wasn't such a bad guy, and calling things a "failed policy" (while we've paid off most of the war debt AND cut the defecit by 50% at the same time) doesn't make it 'failed'. We're winning. And the Democrats had nothing to do with it, but get in the way.
  • Re:Just In! (Score:3, Informative)

    by skintigh2 ( 456496 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @12:32PM (#20555665)
    "Ron Paul is the candidate that has made the most sense to me so far, and most consider him FAR right..."

    Is that because he's the ONLY Republican candidate to not endorse preemptive nuclear strikes against Iran?

    But seriously, I also wonder what they, or anyone, mean by conservative. Maybe if you have a big enough survey it washes out?

    Take Ron Paul. He wants to abolish the EPA, IRS, Dept. of Education, etc. so clearly he is fiscally conservative. Bush and Reagan were liberals in that dept and we'll be paying for that for 50-100 years. All the Republican candidates are socially conservative, even on the Democratic side only one had the guts to support equality for gays (Kucinich). So, who is liberal or conservative and which issue proves it?

    Then we have civil rights. Ron Paul seems to be the only Republican candidate who cares what the Constitution says about issues like torture and privacy. Is he a liberal? Or is not wanting to ignore/liberally-interpret the Constitution make you conservative? The ACLU likes to claim it's the most conservative group in the country...

    Should I put gay marriage under civil right? What about anti-abortion vs anti-nationalizing-the-uterus?

    The more you look at polarized politics the less sense it makes.
  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @01:38PM (#20557323) Journal
    I don't think it is as cut and dry as you and this study attempt to make it.

    Generally liberals are highly educated and more so then conservatives. It appears that the college environment promotes liberalism to a degree. So, I have to ask several questions and seeing that you bought into this study, I figure you have the answers.

    One question would be, who and where did they get the subjects and how did they decide who is liberal and conservative? Was it self described? And are they talking about liberal v. conservatism in general or politically, financially, religiously or what? I know a guy who is more conservative then Pat Buchanan except for he doesn't hold anything against gays and thinks they should be able to marry a goat if they wanted to. Would he be considered a liberal? He considers himself one.

    Another question would be, I see that they have equated more brain noise with liberals and more accurate results with liberals but have they showed that more brain activity means more accurate results? The statement that liberals were more accurate and showed more brain activity doesn't support this idea or more brain activity mean more accuracy directly. The accuracy could very well have been because of more educated liberals liberal in the study as well as the less brain activity liberals scoring more accuracy then the conservatives.

    Yet another question is the background or environmental factors such in the type of questioning. Why was W selected as a test parameter when GW Bush is the root of all evil for a lot of liberals. Wouldn't this imply that just recognizing the W could be because they have had a lot of practice in separating GHB (George Herbert walker bush) from GWB (George Walker Bush) in the rants about how evil he is? And could the extra brain activity be misrepresenting of the hatred and bagged emotions that GW brings around? I mean they were looking at the portion of the brain that deals with conflict.

    But from a relative perspective, they claim 4.9 times as many liberals would register this activity to achieve a 2.2 times accuracy increase. If we were to assign value to this in a random fashon without all the answers to the questions I asked (and probable a lot more), it would mean that the Accurate conservatives used less effort to achieve accurate results and the liberal have to spend a disproportionate level of brain activity to achieve small levels of accuracy.

    I don't think either of us have enough details to makes accurate predictions over the study.

    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.
    Yea, I have seen that too. It gets used a lot to avoid political discussions that drag on and on where the point is usually some instigator thinking he is better then you. That or they attempt to insult you in the process. They are usually Some people get to be know for starting political fights for the sake of shouting their views and demanding that they are right. It doesn't take too many times before they default to an answer that the instigator cannot respond to. I agree with his morals when the question was about policies doesn't let the instigator to shape the conversation in a way he can control. This usually stops them from continuing the conversation and being annoying in a polite manor. It is an easy out for republicans/conservatives that wouldn't necessarily work for liberals because the republican/conservative would likely be just as happy discussing the morals instead. They got a lot of practice when Clinton was in office.

    If it were me, I would simply say I agree with most of his policies but don't like some of the ways they were implemented. I couldn't say all of his policies because I am sure there are some I have missed. And most people would agree that the sentiment behind a lot of his policies are good and agreeable but the implementation had gotten all fucked up.
  • by psmears ( 629712 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @02:16PM (#20558289)

    I don't mean to troll here, but what exactly was the point of linking to the Wikipedia article about England?
    Only to clarify that by "native English" I meant people from England, as opposed to any other definition :). You're right, the article doesn't back up my point at all—but over here everyone does say "maths" rather than "math". I believe this is true in most English-speaking countries; "math" is an Americanism...

User hostile.