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How Your Brain is Different than a Conservative's

A recent study proves that liberals/progressives have more gray matter in a part of the brain related to understanding complexity, while the conservative brain is bigger in the section linked to fear. Scientists have now shown that progressives and conservative brains are actually built differently. Liberals/progressives 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 as reported in Current Biology. This explains the fear mongering these people engage in.


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. Conservatives have a bigger fear area in their brains, thus the “chicken hawk” syndrome, running away while having someone else fight for you.


Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual's political orientation. This 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 tend to "respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals/ progressives and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions, the study said. This is what is known as the “scaredy-cat” response.


Liberals/progressives are linked to larger anterior cingulate cortexes, a region that monitors uncertainty and conflicts. Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept other world 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. “These findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty," the study said.

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