Monday, September 10, 2007

From the Iszatso? dept: Thoughts from Sharon Begley on "liberal" vs. "conservative" brains

In "Red Brain, Blue Brain: Politics and Gray Matter", Sharon Begley, co-author of The Mind and the Brain, a pioneering work in non-materialist neuroscience, comments on recent research on the "political brain", so to speak, done in ultra-liberal Greenwich Village, New York:
Psychologists repeatedly find that conservatives are "more structured and persistent in their judgments and approaches to decision making," and have greater "personal needs for order, structure and closure," as the new paper puts it. Liberals, on the other hand, are more tolerant of "ambiguity and complexity," and more open to new experiences.
and the neuroscience findings confirmed brain activity patterns consistent with that.

But she cautions that the liberals and conservatives in the study were self-rated. "Liberal" in Greenwich Village could be off the chart in Utah. She also notes
Does this mean some people are hard-wired for liberalism and others are hard-wired for conservatism? No. Not only is the very idea of hard wiring passe, but there is a growing recognition among neuroscientists that experiences and thoughts act back on the physical stuff of the brain that produces them. In other words, resist the easy interpretation that some innate pattern of activity in the anterior cingulate makes you fall in a particular spot on the political spectrum. More likely, thinking and believing a certain way affects the conflict-detecting circuitry in the anterior cingulate. What and how you think alter the structure and function of the brain.

Two questions I'd be interested in some information on are:

1. What IS a conservative doing in Greenwich Village anyway besides clinging precariously to his sanity?

2. Was the test also done among devout Mormons in Utah who had started and run successful businesses? If so, were the results the same or different?

That is, I am wondering whether the test actually captures not political opinion as such but the speed of assimilation and adaptation to one's environment. People who are at odds with their environment may need more structured thinking patterns in order to survive. In that case, we should expect to see the results reversed in Utah (where the liberal must keep repeating over and over, "small families are a blessing, small families are a blessing, gay is okay, gay is okay"). Perhaps someone will try it, if they haven't already.

Hat tip to Stephanie Westallen at Brains on Purpose.

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