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Old 09-10-2007, 12:45 PM   #1
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Do Liberals And Conservatives Literally Think Differently?

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 accuracy.

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."
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Old 09-10-2007, 12:51 PM   #2
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Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W
WASN'T THIS PROVEN 7 YEARS AGO!
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Old 09-10-2007, 01:17 PM   #3
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WASN'T THIS PROVEN 7 YEARS AGO!
No.


























Just reinforced
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Old 09-10-2007, 02:54 PM   #4
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I'm becoming more and more liberal in my views, and I wonder if it is because my brain is "more open to new experiences."

Also, my English teacher this year is very conservative, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
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Old 09-10-2007, 03:16 PM   #5
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I come from a conservative family, but my views have also been getting more liberal. So I guess this means brain functions can change over time?
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Old 09-10-2007, 03:18 PM   #6
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I come from a conservative family, but my views have also been getting more liberal. So I guess this means brain functions can change over time?
I'm the same, though my parents don't discuss their politics with me. I only know that they each come from conservative families.

I originally fancied myself a conservative, but I've been getting more liberal with my values, though I'm still conservative with economics.
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Old 09-10-2007, 03:23 PM   #7
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Same here, only my parents discuss their politics with me. Every night at dinner, they (my dad especially) bring up all the issues that concern conservatives. Its really hard to form your own views that way, but so far its been working for me.
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Old 09-10-2007, 03:25 PM   #8
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I saw this in the paper this morning. It made me chuckle.
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Old 09-10-2007, 03:40 PM   #9
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my father's always been kind of liberal, and my mother has gone from Goldwater Republican to Bush 1 voter to Nadar voter to someone who flips off the TV whenever Bush 2 is on and she shudders and says, "oh, that man ..."

so, thank you GWB, for helping my mother see the emptiness of being your kind of "conservative."
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Old 09-10-2007, 10:58 PM   #10
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I don't buy it...there are liberals who have turned conservative and vice-versa...
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Old 09-10-2007, 11:08 PM   #11
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I don't buy it...there are liberals who have turned conservative and vice-versa...
My parents are living proof. They went from voting for JFK when they were younger to voting for George W. Bush (twice!) How does that happen, anyway? I know you supposedly get more conservative when you get older, but I feel like I'm more liberal now than I was 10 years ago.
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Old 09-10-2007, 11:31 PM   #12
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Does anyone else have a family like mine? My whole mom's side of the family are Republicans and my whole dad's side are Democrats. My dad votes Republican, but I'm not sure if he really feels that way or if my mom tells him to. Fortunately, the Republicanism is living on in me and my 2 siblings.
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Old 09-10-2007, 11:56 PM   #13
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It sounds like your mom has the most influence in your family.
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Old 09-11-2007, 12:40 AM   #14
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Originally posted by kimby
I don't buy it...there are liberals who have turned conservative and vice-versa...
But people can learn to be receptive to new ideas.
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Old 09-11-2007, 12:41 AM   #15
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In watching the behavior of conservatives and liberals, I sometimes find conservatives as decisiveness without thought and liberals as thought without decisiveness.

How do both sides think the thought processes differ (if they do)? Not the end result, but the actual processes.
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