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Author Topic: Our brains are prewired to liberal or conservative?  (Read 12913 times)
trekgeezer
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« on: September 11, 2007, 07:48:18 AM »

According to this study it looks to be true. I for one tend be more in the middle, so where do we fit in?

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-politics10sep10,1,5376455.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2007, 08:41:57 AM »

Gotta register to read that?

Anyway, without reading the article, I cannot comment in detail.  LA Times, though?  But based on the subject line and source, I'd have to say "I don't buy it."  I can imagine how some almost-relevant research result has been twisted or misrepresented.
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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2007, 09:19:32 AM »

Gotta register to read that?

Anyway, without reading the article, I cannot comment in detail.  LA Times, though?  But based on the subject line and source, I'd have to say "I don't buy it."  I can imagine how some almost-relevant research result has been twisted or misrepresented.

...as would be standard for the state of journalism.

I don't buy it either; all you have to do is look at the number of people who switch general political outlooks as they age, or in response to something overt like 9/11, and the idea is rendered suspect.

Of course, even debating this question presumes that they've been able to define "liberal" and "conservative" in any sort of meaningful way.
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Nathan Shumate
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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2007, 10:38:49 AM »

Well in the more literal sense, Liberal is the willingness to try new things, where as conservative is the desire to maintain status quo.

In that sense, you can argue that our brains are prewired.
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nshumate
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« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2007, 10:49:47 AM »

I just realized that I DO have an LATimes registration under one of my old email addresses, so here's the complete article text:

Quote
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 todayin 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.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

The results show "there are two cognitive styles -- a liberal style and a conservative style," said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research.

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.

Researchers got the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.

Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results "provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity."

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.

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.

Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.

Political orientation, he noted, occurs along a spectrum, and positions on specific issues, such as taxes, are influenced by many factors, including education and wealth. Some liberals oppose higher taxes and some conservatives favor abortion rights.

Still, he acknowledged that a meeting of the minds between conservatives and liberals looked difficult given the study results.

"Does this mean liberals and conservatives are never going to agree?" Amodio asked. "Maybe it suggests one reason why they tend not to get along."

The idea that neurobiology is intrinsically tied to one's political self-declaration as an undergrad strikes me as really, reeeeeeaally hard to support.
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Nathan Shumate
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« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2007, 11:00:49 AM »

The idea that neurobiology is intrinsically tied to one's political self-declaration as an undergrad strikes me as really, reeeeeeaally hard to support.

On that: Is the article proposing that your brain patterns affect your political belief, or vice versa?

Meh... There's way too many variables to make me think anything more than 'hmmmm' about this.

I suppose it makes more sense that a 'liberal' point of view can 'tolerate ambiguity' better: isn't that the nature of being liberal, ie open-minded, to conservative, ie close-minded?

But still, I wouldn't really take the research altogether that far... Being a conservative doesn't automatically make you a moron who is incapable of independent thought.  And it certainly shouldn't make you tap a key in a different manner to a liberal.

Unless of course the idea is that in being 'liberal' you seek out more information and learn more, whereas a 'conservative' sticks by what is known and doesn't seek to educate themselves much more, therefore becoming a 'use it or lose it' theory in higher brain function.

But even that is stretching it, and frankly, silly.

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nshumate
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« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2007, 11:06:03 AM »



I suppose it makes more sense that a 'liberal' point of view can 'tolerate ambiguity' better: isn't that the nature of being liberal, ie open-minded, to conservative, ie close-minded?

Ideally, yes.  But I don't think that that description really applies to the self-identified college "liberal," i.e. progressive, who can just as easily be rigid and doctrinaire about unassailable received wisdom and assumptions as any right-winger.
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« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2007, 11:13:22 AM »



I suppose it makes more sense that a 'liberal' point of view can 'tolerate ambiguity' better: isn't that the nature of being liberal, ie open-minded, to conservative, ie close-minded?

Ideally, yes.  But I don't think that that description really applies to the self-identified college "liberal," i.e. progressive, who can just as easily be rigid and doctrinaire about unassailable received wisdom and assumptions as any right-winger.

Yeah, I don't think it does either.  I know way to many self professed 'liberal-minded' people who won't have a bar of your discussions, even if you present them with an equally viable alternative.  Kind of the equivalent to stomping your feet and shouting 'but I'M RIGHT AND YOU'RE WRONG!!!'

Still it's an interesting platform to take from this research.  I certainly don't take it at it's face value, but it still does raise the question in my mind at least, as to what inside a person's brain makes them think a certain way/view a certain situation the way they do.

Though of course this is not exclusively connected to politics and should be a discussion to my friend studying psych who is in the middle of cutting up mice brains for her thesis instead...
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ulthar
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« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2007, 11:50:35 AM »


I suppose it makes more sense that a 'liberal' point of view can 'tolerate ambiguity' better: isn't that the nature of being liberal, ie open-minded, to conservative, ie close-minded?


I have to reject that basic premise.  I'm conservative, and I *KNOW* that I am more openminded and tolerant than most of the liberals I know (and have insulted me for various things).

I think you hit it on the head with "too many variables."

To me, this whole thing smacks of a "see, liberals are better people" brainwashing attempt.
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trekgeezer
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« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2007, 11:57:25 AM »


Yeah, I don't think it does either.  I know way to many self professed 'liberal-minded' people who won't have a bar of your discussions, even if you present them with an equally viable alternative.  Kind of the equivalent to stomping your feet and shouting 'but I'M RIGHT AND YOU'RE WRONG!!!'

Still it's an interesting platform to take from this research.  I certainly don't take it at it's face value, but it still does raise the question in my mind at least, as to what inside a person's brain makes them think a certain way/view a certain situation the way they do.

Though of course this is not exclusively connected to politics and should be a discussion to my friend studying psych who is in the middle of cutting up mice brains for her thesis instead...

When Trey and Matt the  creators of South Park were asked who was easier to poke fun at, they immediately said liberals (actually I think they said Democrats) because of the very reason you stated. They're a lot more prone to whine about your portrayal of them than to come back at you with anything meaningful.

The meaning of  liberal and conservative  as associated with politics have become so skewed that they are actually considered derogatory terms depending on who is speaking.  To me both equal pig-headed. We only get to see the extremes of the two through the media's eye and little of the in between, which is where most people  exist.

I don't accept this study as far as the political aspects. I can tell you that as I get older I've gotten a lot more liberal than I was in my youth. So where does age fit into their equation?

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ulthar
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« Reply #10 on: September 11, 2007, 12:23:47 PM »


I can tell you that as I get older I've gotten a lot more liberal than I was in my youth. So where does age fit into their equation?


Interesting.  I wonder if this is part of a more recent trend - a reversal of the old data.  It's been about ten years or so since I've read anything on this, but back then, the trend was both age and education level correlated with becoming more conservative.

As mentioned, though, it's really hard to define "liberal" and "conservative."  Many people I know don't fit either label globally, but only can be labeled such on specific issues.
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« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2007, 12:33:01 PM »

I'm conservative, and I *KNOW* that I am more openminded and tolerant than most of the liberals I know (and have insulted me for various things).


Then you aren't really a conservative and the people you are refering to aren't really liberals.
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trekgeezer
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« Reply #12 on: September 11, 2007, 12:46:28 PM »

Tolerance or intolerance is universal, it just depends on what you're being intolerant of.  Democrats are just as intolerant about some things as Republicans are about others. That's where the whole pig-headed thing I was talking about comes in. 

You can't paint people with such a wide brush.  People and their opinions are complex and this too often gets lost with the use of labels like liberal and conservative. They're nothing but pigeon holes created by the news media to put people in.
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« Reply #13 on: September 11, 2007, 01:19:36 PM »

Tolerance or intolerance is universal, it just depends on what you're being intolerant of.  Democrats are just as intolerant about some things as Republicans are about others. That's where the whole pig-headed thing I was talking about comes in. 

You can't paint people with such a wide brush.  People and their opinions are complex and this too often gets lost with the use of labels like liberal and conservative. They're nothing but pigeon holes created by the news media to put people in.

But the article you posted isn't about Republicans and Democrats. It's about Liberal minded people vs Conservative minded people.
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trekgeezer
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« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2007, 01:57:33 PM »


But the article you posted isn't about Republicans and Democrats. It's about Liberal minded people vs Conservative minded people.

Just making a point about labeling people, it's gotten to the point that the terms are synonymous in the US. 

The main point is most people waffle between the two, the political labels are just examples. 

Heres a question: I don't know anyone who isn't intractable about something, so does that mean everybody I know is conservative?

I just want someone to define the categories for me (there would be a helluva lot more than two).
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