Skip to comments.CONSERVATIVE OR LIBERAL, GRAY MATTER MAY DECIDE HOW YOU VOTE
Posted on 09/26/2012 10:30:38 PM PDT by neverdem
We knew liberals were different, but just how different is revealed in a new study of the human brain indicating that not only do liberals and conservatives share different moral sentiments, but that markedly differing brain structures underlie those sentiments.
The studys findings demonstrate that variation in moral sentiment corresponds to individual differences in brain structure and suggest that moral values possess deep-rooted biological bases distributed across distinct brain regions, say University of California, Santa Barbara, post-doctoral researcher Gary J. Lewis and three research collaborators in the August 2012 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (JCN).
People differ in their sentiment for societally important moral and political values, and those differences are not simply observable in the voting booth, but can also be detected at the level of neuroanatomy, Lewis told Human Events in an August interview.
Building on studies that have found regional variation in brain volume is also linked to individual differences in psychological traits, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to analyze the brain structures of 70 young adults and correlate them with differences in moral valuesresearch that purports to be the first of its kind.
The researchers took as the basis for their study of moral values five core foundationsa desire to minimize harm to others, fairness, in-group loyalty, authority, and purity (a desire to avoid what is impure or disgusting). Measured with a 32-item Moral Foundations Questionnaire, previous studies have identified two higher moral factorsindividualizing and binding, which in turn have been shown to account for significant variance in liberalism-conservatism [respectively] in both the United States and United Kingdom, Lewis and one of his collaborators, University of Edinburgh Psychology Prof. Timothy C. Bates, reported last year in the British Journal of Psychology.
In the more recent study, researchers discovered a greater volume of gray matter in two areas of the brain for subjects reporting conservative attitudes.
Binding was positively and significantly correlated with gray matter volume in two areas, the bilateral subcallosal gyrus and the left anterior insula, for these moral domains, the researchers say in their JCN article, Moral Values Are Associated with Individual Differences in Regional Brain Volume.
These brains regions would likely show smaller gray matter volume in those with liberal attitudes, although work still needs to be done on this specific question, Lewis said. Generally, the researchers say, a greater volume of gray matter may reflect enhanced computational efficiency perhaps has a function of greater neuronal density.
Lewis and his collaborators are careful to point out that no common brain region was observed linking the moral domain and political orientation. The linkages come from self-report data from the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, and from a political orientation query asking respondents to rate themselves on a six-point scale from Very liberal to Very conservative.
Nature vs. Nurture
Its much too early to speculate how much moral values are a product of predisposition or environmental factors like language and culture.
Where youre born and raised, the culture and meanings youre immersed in, these are larger effects in absolute terms than are the heritable predispositions were talking about, Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at the New York University-Stern School of Business told Human Events. The amazing thing is just that theres any heritable predispositionideology is learned or imprinted onto a blank slate. Haidt (pronounced Hite) is a social psychologist whose book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, was published in March.
I would not be at all surprised to learn that the brains of people who prize certain moral foundations behave differently in [functional] MRIlooking at the brain in action. But I am surprised to learn that the differences show up so clearly in structural MRIin something as crude as the sheer size of various neural clusters, Haidt said. Its as though phrenology was right, its just that the early phrenologists were wrong to look at bumps on the head, rather than clumps of neurons deeper down.
The evidence is stacking up that there is an inherent component, but whether it is more powerful than the framing context of language I dont think has been fully disentangled, University of Nebraska Psychology Prof. Kevin B. Smith told Human Events. Most likely these are not independent of each other, but interact in some way, said Smith, who also co-directs the Political Science Physiology Lab at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Smith last year co-published research demonstrating that political attitudes are sometimes represented by instances of involuntary physiological responses to facets of life far detached from the political issues of the day. He and his collaborators found that individuals with strong physiological responses to disgusting images are more likely to self-identify as conservative than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images.
That evidence showing that politicaland moraldifferences have some sort of biological basis helps explain why, as individuals, we have different belief systems and standards of conduct, Smith said.
People differ in brain structure, and these brain structure differences can lead to differences in political behavior, but specific situations, such as war or resource scarcity, can lead to these underlying biological differences manifesting in differences in politics and values in even more powerful ways than might otherwise be observed, Lewis said.
People who score high on binding and feel that authority is being challenged are more likely to have less latitude in how they might feel or respond to challenges.
For example, the arrest, prosecution, and August 17 conviction for hooliganism of three members of the Russian female rock band, Pussy Riot, might not be an expression of moral sentiment by President Vladimir Putin, because part of his motivation would be to expand and maintain political power. But members of the Russian Orthodox Church who support the conviction might score higher for binding, and exhibit greater volume of gray matter in the subcallossal gyrus and the frontal portion of the insula cortex.
That would make an interesting test case, Lewis said, because you could predict and test whether the relationship was true or not.
The discovery of differing underlying brain structures for binding or individualizing should help us realize that the way we see things is not the only way, said Haidt. I dont want us to retreat all the way to taste, as in musical taste, where we say that theres no disputing tastes, but morality is complex, and we each bring to it a mind that is predisposed to pick out some features and be blind to others that other people care about.
These are interesting results, and they fit with some other studies indicating that differences in neural architecture correlate either directly with political attitudes or with traits such as moral values that certainly have implications for political temperaments, Smith said. He cautions, however that the sample sizes for these studies have been small and that there has not yet been much replication of the finding.
Because the research by Lewis and his collaborators focused on young adults and other studies have shown that regional brain volume changes throughout life, more study would be required to determine whether the associations detected here generalize to other ages or socio-demographic groups. Future research would attempt to clarify why individual differences in brain volume should correlate with psychological traits in general, and it would attempt to determine the causality underlying the observed relationships between brain structure and moral values, the researchers say.
Dr. Gary J. Lewis, who completed the research with colleagues Ryota Kanai, Timothy C. Bates, and Geraim Rees, was a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of California at Santa Barbara when the research was published. Lewis embarked for Scotland on August 23 to take a post as a lecturer (an assistant professor in U.S. parlance) in psychology at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
Don’t the progs have to have a brain to participate?
Well, it should be clear where the liberal, homo segment checks in here............
As has been said many times, calling it homo"phobia" is flat out wrong, when it is a disgust with their behavior that is the core of the rejection.
“In the more recent study, researchers discovered a greater volume of gray matter in two areas of the brain for subjects reporting conservative attitudes. “
Yep, just like I said recently, the human race is actually experiencing a true evolutionary split that will separate us into two distinct groups, one conservative and the other liberal. And you said that the conservatives will be the dominate species, and the one most likely to survive and thrive, because so many of us, in general, are fiercely independent and are resourceful and creative. Well, we may have been joking about all of this at the time, but there is actually science to support our wild speculation.
What about people who switch sides?
How do they determine what’s liberal and what’s conservative, anyway? I’ve never been sure.
“ideology is learned or imprinted onto a blank slate”
The “core foundations” and supposedly “higher moral faculties” are very vague. So are the ideological identifications, of course. But I wonder how they propose to turn “individualizing” and “binding” scientifically into ideological tags. Except by asking the subjects. But what do young people know about themselves? I suppose it doesn’t matter, since whatever they say matches up in an objective pattern with the brainscans and the foundations/faculties, no matter what we call them.
I just wonder what substance there is to thinking such vagueries can determine abstract questions like how big a problem is the deficit or ought we to go to war over Iranian nukes. Obviously the parties are cut generally along sentimental lines. And philosophically on the whole conservatives I’ve always thought were more individualistic and liberals collectivist. Unless you’re talking about sec and drugs on the one side and national defense on the other.
Psychology and neuroscience are closely enough related. Of course the former is a pretender. Sociology is linked to the former but not the latter. Political science has become a philosophy/sociology hybrid. Here you have neuroscience making claims on philosophy when it’s four times removed. All it can really say is kids who claim to be so-and-so share like brains, and their brains match up with states we’ve given pretentious emotional names. Amidst admissions that it’s all more complicated than we’ll ever know materialism continues it’s long campaign to conquer all.
Thought is determined by matter and environment. That’s what they think and that’s what you’ll think dang blast it.
I just love these eggheads who think that humans are nothing more than a collection of cells, and that there’s nothing else that motivates them.
How do they account for people whose political leanings change over time? Mine have changed a full one hundred and eighty degrees in my lifetime. Did I grow a new brain or something? What happened to the old one?
Your brain changes over time, too, of course.
Psychology is mostly solid and reproducible, IMHO. Psychologists can prescribe some psych meds depending on location, IIRC.
Yep, if it were innate liberals wouldn’t need to control the education of our young.
“You brain changes over time, too, of course”
Okay, let’s say it changes with your ideology, and in predictanle patterns. Did it cause your politics to change, or did your changing politics change it? Or did it slowly evolve along with your thoughts? Or did your experience change your brain and your brain change your politics, or your experience change your politics and they both change your brain, or what?
How would we ever know?
Reproducable, yes, but in different terms than, say, an experiment with a particle accelerator, and this for various reasons. I have no doubt you can discredit various theories, or maybe even disprove them. You can also confirm theories with adequate statistical certitude to unlike sociology set it clearly outside the humanities and closer to a science.
But what are these theories, anyway? They’re not like in physics where you can express them with the precision of mathematics. No, must express them that way. Psychological theories are much vaguer and much looser. Plus there’s a pretty solid dividing line in the hard sciences between what constitutes science (mostly the math) and what popularization. Psychology is not infinitely but expansively less strict on that account. Very much of it is indistinguishable from sociology or philosophy (of a prosaic sort).
Moreover a lot of it depends not on objective facts but what the subject thinks about it. Which both can never be controlled (with current laws) and never can be decisively established.
Aside from the fact that any conclusions based on a study of the brain should be treated with caution (it is, after all, easily the single most complex thing known to our science), I think that people could be falling into the classic cause and effect trap here. Somebody finds an alleged difference in the brain structure of liberals and conservatives and everyone assumes that means people are born with "predispositions" to certain types of behavior. And of course, it gives plenty of scope for jokes about "brainless liberals"! :)
But, could it not equally be the other way round? As has been said by other posters, the brain does change and develop over time, so maybe its not that your brain structure determines your political "predisposition" but that holding certain viewpoints causes the development of certain areas of the brain? The evidence of this study supports that contention equally as well.
heh..you beat me to it!
There was a liberal/conservative test on here a couple weeks ago. Everyone who reported their score on FR essentially pegged or nearly pegged the meter on the conservative side. You just ask people how they feel about various lib/con splits in the world and they'll tell you. I'm sure if you went to a lib site and ran it you would get the opposite.
Anyone have a link to that quiz available?
Eric Hoffer in “True Believer” offers an explanation. Mass movements are appealing to individuals who want to escape a flawed self by creating an imaginary self and joining a collective whole. See both Elizabeth Warren as an example and Wikipedia: Eric Hoffer and “True Believer”.
Yes, but firstly he was talking about collectivist fanatics. If we were talking about conservatives versus communists, okay. But it’s conservatives versus liberals. Certainly they are relative mass men, but not to that degree.
On the average liberals are of the people and conservatives aristocratic. But we stereotypically like Fourth of July parades and if I watch Hannity, for instance, are increasingly nationalistic. Plus we love the terms limousine liberals and ivy tower elitists. Granted, we mean to say they’re fake elitists and maybe didn’t earn their limousines.
"Individuals with strong physiological responses to disgusting images are more likely to self-identify as conservative than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images.
That would explain a lot. In their liberal world, where there are no moral absolutes, very little disgusts them, other than conservatives.
If we're going to have evolutionary divergence, it would be nice if we could give them their own continent to destroy.
If that's true, then why are my parents, and all of my siblings still Democrats?
Good observation, and I would argue that if there's any correlation between the structure of a person's grey matter and their political persuasion, that it's probably more true that a person's thoughts affect the changing structure of their brain, and not the other way around.
You lost me. You use pronouns with hazy antecedents dilutes whatever point you are attempting to make.
I thought “he” would be obvious, since I was responding to your post about Eric Hotter.
“We” is us, that is creepers and conservatives.
“They” is the only one I admit could be confusing because it moves from the true believers to liberals, which I was maintaining are distinct.
Whoops, creepers = creepers.
The point, by the way, was in short that true believers don’t apply to the question because it is about liberalism versus conservatism, neither of which fit the type.
Thanks. While I don’t agree, I understand your point.
Maybe if it is a positive feedback loop, that is also the answer to the old "nurture or nature" argument.