Study: Conservatives have larger ‘fear center’ in brain

By Daniel Tencer
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 17:43 EDT
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Political opinions are considered choices, and in Western democracies the right to choose one’s opinions — freedom of conscience — is considered sacrosanct.

But recent studies suggest that our brains and genes may be a major determining factor in the views we hold.

A study at University College London in the UK has found that conservatives’ brains have larger amygdalas than the brains of liberals. Amygdalas are responsible for fear and other “primitive” emotions. At the same time, conservatives’ brains were also found to have a smaller anterior cingulate — the part of the brain responsible for courage and optimism.

If the study is confirmed, it could give us the first medical explanation for why conservatives tend to be more receptive to threats of terrorism, for example, than liberals. And it may help to explain why conservatives like to plan based on the worst-case scenario, while liberals tend towards rosier outlooks.

“It is very significant because it does suggest there is something about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some way determines or results in our political attitudes,” Geraint Rees, the neurologist who carried out the study, told the media.

Rees, who heads up UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, was originally asked half-jokingly to study the differences between liberal and conservative brains for an episode of BBC 4′s Today show that was hosted by actor Colin Firth. But, after studying 90 UCL students and two British parliamentarians, the neurologist was shocked to discover a clear correlation between the size of certain brain parts and political views.

He cautions that, because the study was carried out only on adults, there is no way to tell what came first — the brain differences or the political opinions.

But evidence is beginning to accumulate that figuring out a person’s political proclivities may soon be as simple as a brain scan — or a DNA test.

In a study published in October, researchers at Harvard and UC-San Diego found that a variant of the DRD4 gene predisposes people to being liberal, but only if they had active social lives as adolescents. The “liberal gene” has also been linked to a desire to try new things, and other “personality traits related to political liberalism.”

For his part, actor Colin Firth, who hosted the BBC show that revealed the results of the brain scans, has said he wants to see brain scans on politicians to find out if they are telling the truth about what they believe.

Questioning the “liberal” credentials of the head of Britain’s Liberal Democratic party, Nick Clegg, Firth said: “I think we should have him scanned.”

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4Z734UNIME3TH7KCWQSASNI3BE Bob

    Naaah. I’m a liberal, through and through. Served under Reagan, even, in the 23rd Inf Regt. My children are growing up strong, well-centered, unafraid, and curious about everything. My son is an honorable little guy and my step-daughter is afraid of NOTHING. Your children, on the other hand, have been taught to play the victim card from day one, if you are a conservative American, and especially if you are an evangelical christian. I’m not a religionist, but my few remaining christian friends tell me that fear is the opposite of faith, and therefore “sinful,” and yet the conservative christians I know are the most frightened little birds I’ve ever come across, extremely easy to rattle after they insult you with some ad hominem. snarky, sideways insult or catchy Palinesque slogan. I’ve given a small number of Cons the opportunity and the forum to defend their convictions and insults numerous times, but they always drop the tough talk just in time, raise their hands in front, as if to say “Come on, be reasonable,” then tell everyone how violent or unhinged this liberal is or that. You guys stink of fear.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4Z734UNIME3TH7KCWQSASNI3BE Bob

    Wait, what now? I’m a fellow Arky, Natalie, and a teacher in PCSSD (I know, nothing to be proud of, but gotta make a living) and I don’t know what you’re talking about. When did Bill refuse to deseg?

  • Guest

    This information goes a long way to describe why the more socially conservative people are affected as desired by Glenn Beck’s masterful manipulation of them.