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17609Brain structure differs in liberals, conservatives: study

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  • medit8ionsociety
    Apr 8, 2011
      by Agence France-Presse • April 7, 2011

      WASHINGTON — Everyone knows that liberals
      and conservatives butt heads when it comes
      to world views, but scientists have now shown
      that their brains are actually built differently.

      Liberals have more gray matter in a part of the
      brain associated with understanding complexity,
      while the conservative brain is bigger in the
      section related to processing fear, said the
      study on Thursday in Current Biology.

      "We found that greater liberalism was associated
      with increased gray matter volume in the anterior
      cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism
      was associated with increased volume of the right
      amygdala," the study said.

      Other research has shown greater brain activity
      in those areas, according to which political views
      a person holds, but this is the first study to
      show a physical difference in size in the same regions.

      "Previously, some psychological traits were known
      to be predictive of an individual's political
      orientation," said Ryota Kanai of the University
      College London, where the research took place.

      "Our study now links such personality traits with
      specific brain structure."

      The study was based on 90 "healthy young adults"
      who reported their political views on a scale of
      one to five from very liberal to very conservative,
      then agreed to have their brains scanned.

      People with a large amygdala are "more sensitive
      to disgust" and tend to "respond to threatening
      situations with more aggression than do liberals
      and are more sensitive to threatening facial
      expressions," the study said.

      Liberals are linked to larger anterior cingulate
      cortexes, a region that "monitor(s) uncertainty
      and conflicts," it said.

      "Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a
      larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate
      uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept
      more liberal views."

      It remains unclear whether the structural
      differences cause the divergence in political
      views, or are the effect of them.

      But the central issue in determining political
      views appears to revolve around fear and how
      it affects a person.

      "Our findings are consistent with the proposal
      that political orientation is associated with
      psychological processes for managing fear and
      uncertainty," the study said.