Many recent studies show strong correlations between people's brain characteristics and politics. In fact, one study showed researchers could predict with 72% accuracy whether people were conservative or liberal based on their brain structures alone. Analysis of brain activity has been used to predict whether a person is Democrat or Republican with 83% accuracy.
Characteristics of The Liberal Brain
Greater Activity Processing New, Surprising, or Contradictory Information
Liberals tend to have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus. This area processes new information and the impact of it on their choices.
Stronger Connectivity Linked to Empathy and Social Skills
Liberals tend to exhibit greater activity in the left insula - which is associated with social and self-awareness.
Resulting Personality Traits: Openness to the new. Values empathy more highly.
Characteristics of The Conservative Brain
Higher Sensitivity to Threats
Conservatives tend to have a larger right amygdala, and it fires more rapidly than for liberals. This is a deep brain structure that works with fear-based emotion and triggers the flight or fight response. A study found that when conservatives hear a shocking noise, they exhibit more instinctual, fear-based reactions.
More Sensitive to Disgust
Complementary to the larger right amygdala, conservatives have more grey matter in the left insula - which is associated with feelings of disgust. One study showed a striking correlation between one's predisposition for disgust and a conservative ideology.
Resulting Personality Traits: Values stability and loyalty. Dislikes change.
All this said, having a liberal or conservative orientation is not always clear cut. There is a full spectrum of ideologies - and some are tidier than others. Yet, by understanding what is going on in the brain, we can gain a clearer understanding of what processes inform political stances. All information comes in through the brain, and each brain is paying attention to and ignoring different things.
The Morality of LIberals and Conservatives
Different brain structures contribute to different moral priorities.
Moral Foundation Theory identifies six cross-cultural pillars of human moral reasoning:
- Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm.
- Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating.
- Liberty: the loathing of tyranny; opposite of oppression.
- Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.
- Authority or respect: obeying tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.
- Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation.
After analyzing tens of thousands of survey responses, Jonathan Haidt found that conservatives tend to more equally value the pillars than liberals. Liberals do not tend to value loyalty, authority, and sanctity as much as conservatives do.
You can contribute to this ongoing study at YourMorals.org
Liberals are less likely to value authority and loyalty because they are often barriers to care, liberty and fairness. Conservatives are more likely to be in touch with the fragility of order and are more motivated to preserve it. Both of these orientations evolved because they have each been key to our survival.
Strategies for Persuading a Liberal
- Provide novel new information that is science-based and/or factual
- Do not appeal to doctrine or tradition
- Try to speak to their point of view at an empathetic level
Strategies for Persuading a Conservative
- Speak to values such as loyalty, stability and order
- Speak within the context of any religious belief they may hold
- Soothe any anxiety about change at an empathetic level
Tools for Discovering Your Brain's Political Disposition
Your brain can dramatically change over time, and so may your politics.
Here're some tools to give you a deeper insight into who you are now.
27 strange non-political scenarios will appear. Respond honestly and independently and it will predict your political ideology.
Learn about your own morality, ethics, and/or values, while also contributing to scientific research.