Your Brain on Politics: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Liberals and Conservatives
    By Andrea Kuszewski | September 7th 2011 01:54 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Andrea

    Andrea is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum, residing in the state of FL; her background is in cognitive


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    "Can neuroscience provide evidence for a liberal and conservative thinking style?

    It may seem like a stretch to say that one could predict whether you lean left or right by looking at a brain scan—no questions asked, no opinions voiced—purely based on your neuroanatomy. However, this might not be too far from reality—at least insofar as predicting thinking style, which has been shown to be somewhat distinct based on party association.

    Does brain structure determine your beliefs, or do your beliefs change your brain structure? What about those who switch parties at some point? How do they fit in to this model? We’ll be discussing all of this. It’s a complicated issue with lots of variables in play, so we’re going to take a pretty deep look into this topic from all angles, so we can draw the most accurate conclusions."

    Wherein I attempt to take fair look at the neuroscientific evidence that appears to suggest that there is a separate and distinct liberal and conservative thinking style. However, it's nowhere near that simple! 

    Read the rest over at The Intersection where I am guest posting today!


    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but I don't see it.  Thinking style does not lead to thinking conclusions, regardless of which portion of the brain dominates any particular activity.  I have no doubt that some people's thought processes are more subject to logic, while others may embrace a more emotional stance. 

    Beyond that, it tells us nothing.  It's not even a useful approximation beyond indicating that people's brains don't operate in a uniform fashion. 
    So—for liberals to make a case for an idea or cause, they come armed with data, research studies, and experts. They are convinced of an idea if all the data checks out–basically they assign meaning and value to ideas that fit within the scientific method, because that’s their primary thinking style.
    Sorry, but that's not even approximately true.  It's a bias that is unwarranted.
    Conservatives would be less likely to assign value primarily using the scientific method. Remember, their thinking style leads primarily with emotion. In order for them to find an idea valuable, it has to be meaningful for them personally.
    It would be much more accurate to argue that, depending on the issue, some people will tend to respond more emotionally, while others may respond from a more evidence-based perspective.  Anything more than that is over-reaching and cannot be confirmed by any claims to data. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    I've been reading thru the comments at DISCOVER, and so far as I can tell, no one has noticed the following: Andrea Kuszewski has jumped to a conclusion; viz., that because - she suggests - conservatives show more right amygdalar activity, as well as increased volume, they will "experience and express more empathy." But there is to my knowledge not a shred of evidence for this. In effect, Kuszewski has introduced a very interesting hypothesis. I predict that testing for this hypothesis - that conservatives are more empathic - or, more precisely (and compellingly) conservatives who show (right) amygdalar activation and larger volumes - should - according to Kuszewski - be/show more empathy - will yield a null result. No big surprise there! But WHY? Why not? THAT would be a very interesting line of inquiry.