Conversely, if you stop using an area of your brain to a significant degree, it will probably shrink in size due to lack of connectivity, similar to the atrophy of muscles. I suspect both things contribute somewhat. How much? We have no way of knowing at this point. Not everyone fits into little personality boxes. The world just loves the idea of personality defined by linear spectrums of traits that are the opposite of one another. We assume everyone occupies one data point on that spectrum, neatly dividing people into categories based on how close they are to one or the other end: thinking vs feeling, introvert vs extrovert, and so on.
This may be true for some people, but not everyone. Some people are clearly more on one end of the spectrum than the other, but some people are weighted relatively equally on both ends of the spectrum—not in the middle of the two, but extreme on both ends—they are able to go back and forth between thinking styles depending on the situation. This is very important to keep in mind when you talk about labeling and sorting people into categories based on one measure of a trait.
Political affiliation is a choice. True, certain personality traits, which are heritable, tend to influence dominant thinking, feeling, or processing styles; those personality traits influence behaviors and preferences. A person chooses to join a political party; they are not forced into one straight from the womb. The tendency for a personality type to be likely to engage in a set of somewhat related behaviors is not a genetic cause for a behavior.
There is a lot of variability, even with genetic predisposition. Also, there is very rarely one gene that accounts for anything , especially when we are talking about conditions of complex traits like personality style or psychological disorders. People tend to join networks of peers that are like themselves, regardless of specific political issues.
The majority of the population is not terribly well-informed about the current political issues. Sad, but true. When that happens, the party as a whole tends to take on the personality of the dominant leaders at that point in history, and attract people who respond to that type of personality or communication style. The people that fit into this two-category model described here are generally the most active and hard core members of the parties. Some people are just really complex. Maybe they are highly emotionally sensitive and have a large amygdala, but also have a prominent ACC and prefer novelty and ambiguity.
Those people exist, and I know some of them personally. The really complex people never fit neatly into models like these. Furthermore, I hypothesize that those complex people are more likely to be the ones to switch parties at some point. Because they have the traits that make them receptive to both kinds of arguments—logical and emotional—it might take one particular issue that strikes a chord that swings them one way or another. I would love to see further research on this cohort in particular. Finally, how can this information be used for good and not evil?
When a party is trying to rally its base and speak to their own, they will use those communication styles that work for them, which makes perfect sense. Liberals will rally with data and strong, logical arguments, and conservatives will hammer away about family values and stability. This works really well for strengthening your in-group. So you know what this means?
Yep—each side is going to have to recognize that not everyone thinks like them, processes information like them, or values the same types of things. We have some scientific data here.
Not just one party bending, but both parties—and it needs to happen soon. David M. Matthew M.
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Psychol Rev. Donegan et al. Biological Psychiatry 54 11 : — Krusemark, E. Do all threats work the same way? Divergent effects of fear and disgust on sensory perception and attention. Journal of Neuroscience , 31 9 , Excellent post. The best description of the neuroscience behind political affiliation I have read outside of journal articles. I think you undermined your own point by asking both parties to bend, a piece of advice that is already repeated ad nauseam in political commentary.
I am not really sure how these new insights from neuroscience will really help the federal government out of a stalemate. Thanks, Chris! It could really help set some new standards for communication across party lines. There are a lot of contravening variables that I hoped these studies controlled for — such as socio-economic status, education levels, etc. Therefore less-educated conservatives would naturally have less active ACCs, for example. Also, I should point out to your readers that political science shows the most educated among us liberal or conservative are actually the most prone to receiving cues from their elites, perhaps because they are more equipped to do so, or perhaps because they fool themselves into thinking they are making an educated choice, when instead they are just reinforcing their prior beliefs.
I def doubt that liberals are more flexible in their beliefs, although they may take more complex cognitive pathways to reinforce their beliefs, there are just as many red lines for liberals as there are for conservatives. I agree. This is an incredibly thoughtful and illuminating post. I think that several things are worth re-emphasizing:.
This means that education matters, and the type of education offered matters. Cultural structures matter. To use an historical example, what made Athens Athens and Sparta Sparta? It also offers some relief to people such as myself, whose procreative efforts are strictly at replacement level.
Thus there are people who end up in either of the two political slots offered in the US who fit both models. I think that the ideology of our political parties make some sense looking at their historical roots, but in modern terms are somewhat arbitrary. At the extremes, there are some leftists who are incredibly rigid thinkers, who believe that everyone should think as they do, or else. Recognizing that people have thoughts and feelings with deeply emotional roots which originate in real differences in how we use our brains, does not mean that we have to abandon prospects for rational civilized society.
I do believe, however that it highlights the unfortunate fact that for humans, grasp of civilization is tenuous. This means that without continuous nurturing, without serious efforts at building and maintaining the key elements of civilized society, humans are eminently capable of backsliding. I think that having a deeper understanding of human cognitive processing will aid us in our efforts to move forward.
The anterior cingulate shows differences in a huge number of studies. Feel free to speculate on broader behavioral differences based on political affiliation, but the reliability of the current brain localization studies are weak at best. This was a fantastic post.
I can perfectly imagine taking scientific thinking to an emotional level. On the other hand, taking emotional thinking to a scientific level may prove a whole lot more challenging, because often, that will prompt you to re-evaluate the ideas to which you are emotionally attached. A lot of conservative ideals will have to collapse before they can argue with liberals with scientifically sound arguments. I am not saying this is impossible, just that with the Perrys, Palins and Bachmanns of today, this is not realistic. Please apply this to Joe Lieberman so that he can get some helping figuring out to which party he belongs.
First, thanks for reading and commenting!
SO, based on the science…. Scientists are trained to have an open mind like I had to when reviewing all of this material and view the data before them, drawing conclusions without letting personal or emotional feelings getting in the way. You learn to be objective, and push all the emotion aside. Yes, scientists get attached to their ideas, once they are formed.
They can be hard-headed and stubborn as hell, but if another scientific study comes along that disproves whatever working theory they had, they tend to take the new data into consideration, shifting or modifying their beliefs if necessary in theory. You can be convicted in your beliefs, but you are open to new possibilities… like, say, the earth is round when we thought it was flat.
Oh, cool! A new fact, the world is round, yay science, moving on.
Tolerating change. Inflexibility in processing would be closing out any alternate explanations, even in the face of contradictory evidence. In the case of conservatives, it might be a triggered response to how the information was presented: Hard data is thrown in your face, you get defensive because you are emotionally attached to your values, and you kick into survival mode.