Have you ever wondered exactly what it is that makes you a Liberal instead of a Conservative? Did you just make a decision one day that your feelings and beliefs lean left? Were you raised by Democratic parents who taught you Liberal values? Or could there be more to it? Maybe you were just born with a predisposition to be a Lib. It’s the old nature vs. nurture argument.
Well as it turns out, there have been several studies which reveal that the brains of Liberals and Conservatives are actually very different. And these differences really are a good thing. It’s like nature has given us a built-in system of checks and balances. It’s what makes Conservatives prone to want stability and order, while the Liberals go after progress and reform. Scientists are quick to point out that this new research doesn’t prove that Liberal brains are better than Conservative brains…they are just very different.
One thing that the researchers have found is that Liberals have larger and more active anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC, than our Conservative counterparts. And while they are lacking in the ACC department, they actually have larger amygdala than we do.
What this means is that basically the more developed ACC allows the Liberal to be a better problem solver. It helps us to cipher through difficult information and make educated decisions. According to scientists, Liberal brain chemistry allows us to monitor conflict, detect errors, and we are more likely to
“respond to informational complexity, ambiguity, and novelty. Liberals, according to this model, would be likely to engage in more flexible thinking, working through alternate possibilities before committing to a choice. Even after committing, if alternate contradicting data comes along, they would be more likely to consider it. This is how science works, and why there might be so many correlations between scientific beliefs.”
The Conservatives on the other hand have a more developed center of emotion with the amygdala. It is said to be the center for fear, so with such an enlarged and heightened amygdala, much of what they do and how they react to most situations comes from basic fear response. Discover magazine also says,
“Conservatives respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions.”
“So, when faced with an ambiguous situation, conservatives would tend to process the information initially with a strong emotional response. This would make them less likely to lean towards change, and more likely to prefer stability. Stability means more predictability, which means more expected outcomes, and less of a trigger for anxiety.”
In a recent report that came out in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, author John R. Hibbing from the University of Nebraska gives even more proof that our political leanings are something we have from birth. He says that because of our differences in brain chemistry, Cons and Libs show different behavioral traits.
One way we are different is that Cons tend to have much stronger and more intense reactions to negative things. And those negative things can be real, like an actual physical threat, or imagined, like Benghazi, or WMDs in Iraq, or voter fraud. Unfortunately those extreme fears seem to have put Conservatives into some kind of permanent paranoia. And their paranoia is fueled by a phenomenon called moral panic. Moral panic happens when a group of people whips up hysterical fears over another group and threatens to change the whole social order of things.
A good example of this can be seen with the current border crisis. Conservatives are having mass hysteria because Central American children are turning themselves in at the border. The way those angry mobs were shouting and holding hostile signs at the buses full of children made me feel like I was in a time warp and back in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Honestly, the moral panic over the border crisis makes absolutely no logical sense. I mean screaming at a bunch of kids or worrying that those kids have somehow mysteriously picked up the Ebola virus does nothing to solve the problem. But their behavior is much easier to understand when you realize that they are acting out of fear. This is actually the defining characteristic of Conservatism.
Another really interesting part of this study is that they were able to quantitatively measure people’s response to visual stimuli. They took a large group of people with strong political beliefs and showed them several different images. Mixed in the photographs were three pictures of threatening images. The Conservatives in the group actually showed measurable physical signs of distress when seeing the frightening pictures, while the Liberals were mostly unaffected.
It’s really not hard to see the connection between fear and Conservatism. I mean, if you’re always worried about the negatives, it makes sense that you would avoid the unknown and err on the side of caution by sticking with your old safe ways of doing things.
Hibbing sums it all up by saying
“[N]ot only do political positions favoring defense spending, roadblocks to immigration, and harsh treatment of criminals seem naturally to mesh with heightened response to threatening stimuli but those fostering conforming unity (school children reciting the pledge of allegiance), traditional lifestyles (opposition to gay marriage), enforced personal responsibility (opposition to welfare programs and government provided healthcare), longstanding sources of authority (Biblical inerrancy; literal, unchanging interpretations of the Constitution), and clarity and closure (abstinence-only sex education; signed pledges to never raise taxes; aversion to compromise) do, as well. Heightened response to the general category of negative stimuli fits comfortably with a great many of the typical tenets of political conservatism.”
And he adds,
“Thus, it is reasonable to hypothesize that individuals who are physiologically and psychologically responsive to negative stimuli will tend to endorse public policies that minimize tangible threats by giving prominence to past, traditional solutions, by limiting human discretion (or endorsing institutions, such as the free market, that do not require generosity, discretion, and altruism), by being protective, by promoting ingroups relative to out-groups, and by embracing strong, unifying policies and authority figures.”
|Mindy Fischer is a lefty-liberal, freelance political writer. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.|