left-wing brain vs. right-wing brain ?


Richard Moore

I find this somewhat interesting, but single studies are not of much value in 
themselves. And the headline is ridiculous...do we say that people with 
different personalities or interests have 'different brains'??


Original source URL:

From the Los Angeles Times
Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain

Even in humdrum nonpolitical decisions, liberals and conservatives literally 
think differently, researchers show.

By Denise Gellene
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 10, 2007

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 

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."


Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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