Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Thinking Style Linked to Political Orientation

Most people interested in politics, both liberals and conservatives, have no doubt scratched their heads and wondered how the other side could possibly hold the opinions they do. Sometimes, it even seems as if people on the other side have their brains wired backwards.

It seems as if we might be right in thinking this. A study released last Sunday indicates that the brain neurons of liberals and conservatives fire differently when confronted with tough choices.

Previous studies have linked certain personality traits with particular political philosophies, but it seems as if the difference is also hard-wired into the brain.

The different cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives can be boiled down to this: Conservatives tend to be dualistic, black and white thinkers, tending toward absolute judgements, where liberals are more eclectic, shades of grey thinkers, tending toward situational and relative judgements. To elaborate, conservatives tend to crave order and structure in their lives, and are more consistent in the way they make decisions. Liberals, on the other hand, show a higher tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, and adapt more easily to unexpected circumstances. Conservatives are about foundations; liberals are about innovation.

The study, published in the British journal Nature Neuroscience, also points out that cognitive style, which influences political opinion, is also highly inheritable.

Inspired by previous studies, New York University political scientist David Amodio and colleagues decided to find out if the brains of liberals and conservatives reacted differently to the same stimuli, conducting tests designed to measure unrehearsed response to cues urging one to break well-established routines.

The results were predictable: liberals showed "significantly greater conflict-related neural activity" when the hypothetical situation called for an unscheduled break in routine.

Conservatives were less flexible, refusing to change old habits "despite signals that this ... should be changed."

"The neural mechanisms for conflict monitoring are formed early in childhood," and are probably rooted in part in our genetic heritage, Amodio said.

"But even if genes may provide a blueprint for more liberal or conservative orientations, they are shaped substantially by one's environment over the course of development," he added.

I would say that both cognitive styles are important and both have something to contribute to society. I'm guessing that an all-conservative or all-liberal society would be too much of a good thing or too much of a bad thing, depending upon your perspective.



Chandra Moon's Other World said...

That's fascinating - I split up with my last bloke because his views were so fixed even though he "knew" he should probably be more flexible - we were completely incompatible because we were so differently wired in that respect. However, in my case, it's not inherited from my dad's side - he's very conservative small c and big C and yet I am very liberal and extremely tolerant of diversity - in fact I celebrate it. My mum is pretty liberal but I am more so. B's whole routine and life would be upset by any sudden or unexpected change yet I can switch direction just like that! Really interesting post - I enjoyed reading it a lot.

Cyn said...

posted a link to this earlier myself. and i think its true. i think we come into this world w/ some 'wet wiring' for a hella lotta stuff so why not general perspective which is the foundation of all our belief systems including the political. and yes, life experience either hones that edge or creates dissonance. or any shade of grey in between. *grins* and yes, i tend toward the liberal side of the pool. which is weird given my conservative parentage and upbringing. yet i've also been the rebel...so think that confirms it. i was born liberal and even when confronted w/ conservative pressure ..stayed that way. granted when i was younger i was much quieter about it. LOL
now i'm older and can make as much noise as i want. thank god.
thing is ...wonder if you can 'test' your kids to find out which way their wind blows? hhhmmm....?

elisataufik said...

that actually makes a lot of sense...

If only people would start listening to all these different perspectives on issues and come up with better solutions, and not just ones that 'goes along the party lines'