Political views are reflected in brain structure

A number of studies have found that there is a genetic or psychological basis for political preferences. Now reseachers at University College London, writing in Current Biology, claim that these are also related to brain structures.

Individuals who call themselves liberal tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, while those who call themselves conservative have larger amygdalas. Based on what is known about the functions of those two brain regions, the structural differences are consistent with reports showing a greater ability of liberals to cope with conflicting information and a greater ability of conservatives to recognize a threat, the researchers say.

The take-home message is that conservatives are easily worried or frightened and that liberals are open to new experiences. But is this fixed at birth, or does experience shape the brain? Kanai says that it is hard to tell. "It's very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions," he said. "More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude."

Cognitive neuroscientist Martha Farah, of the University of Pennsylvania, told Science that the widely reported news was not very significant, as there is a great deal of conflicting evidence about the functions of these parts of the brain. "They're indulging in a bit of just-so storytelling," she said. ~ Eurekalert, Apr 7

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