Neurocognative Corellates of Liberalism and Conservativism

Political scientists and psychologists have noted that, on average, conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty. We tested the hypothesis that these profiles relate to differences in general neurocognitive functioning using event-related potentials, and found that greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern.

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nn1979.html

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http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn1979.html

And yet another study along these lines…

Conservatives resistant to change, film at 11

It pretty amazing that such high level phenomena are correlated to such low level phenomena. Very cool.

But now we know it’s brain damage…

Being conservative is genetic and/or organic! I can’t help it, I’m a protected class, where’s my money!?!

You didn’t get your tax cut?

suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern.

Is the revelation here that behavioral traits are now observable deep within the brain?

Sample size of 42, 8 of which were conservatives. Really not buying it.

The experiment seems a little odd.

I think the comments from your blog citation tie it all together nicely, though.

…found that greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern.

No wonder the Bushies managed to get conservatives to vote an idiot into office twice - conservatives have a hard time processing a change to ingrained habits. I almost feel sorry for them.

These people have proved nothing. It could quite obviously be the case that different habits of thought are being expressed in the subjects’ choices, habits that have been learned over years. For instance, the conservative thinks a certain way, not because his brain makes him think differently, but simply because his intellectual content is different from the liberal’s. He is a believer in objective truth and objective reality (having been convinced of it somewhere along the way). His principles are established and most of the truths that follow from them established as well. His world works in a predictable way, so he is inclined to anticipate and prefer patterns in things. The liberal, on the other hand, is a skeptic. He doesn’t know if there’s anything objectively real or true in the world, or if there is how you might establish it. His principles are tentative and fluid. He never really knows what to expect, so he’s attentive to every passing detail. He doesn’t much care for sameness or patterns, since sameness implies order, and order is what he rejects.

It’s not difficult to see how, given these two broad intellectual types, the results received from the experiment might result. So what if a certain area of the brain shows activity in the conservative and a different one in the liberal? No one’s ever proven that it’s the brain activity causing the thought, rather than the thought causing the brain activity. That’s simply another one of those baseless assumptions our modern world is built on.

Another thought: does this mean that anarchists are soopergeniuses?

conservatives have a hard time processing a change to ingrained habits.

So do I, and I’m liberal.

Participants reported political preference on a scale from –5 to 5. Scale scores of all participants were correlated with their brain activity (event-related potentials or ERPs). The study did not compare the 8 most conservative participants with the 34 others, so the sample size critique shows some misunderstanding of the study’s methodology.

For me, the interesting finding is that a simple cognitive attitude like political preference relates to brain activity and performance on a task only tangential to that belief. For example, I wouldn’t expect a person’s preference for live versus recorded musical performances to predict his or her fluency at delivering an unrehearsed speech, much less the strength of his or her brain activity during the task.

This study showed that attitudes correspond to brain activity and accuracy at tasks fairly unrelated to the attitude. I doubt political preference would predict performance on a complex behavioral task. Regardless, I find it interesting that subtle differences in task-related brain activity relate to broad cognitive distinctions in beliefs and attitudes.

I still don’t see how can you make sweeping conclusions like this based on a sample size that small or unrepresentative of the population in general. I guess it’d help to see the entire paper.

Also, using W when that’s the acronym of the current very conservative president seems like cheating.

They probably chose W for its similarity to M, but they could have equally gone with b and d lowercase, though those may be too alike.

I’ve made even more grand sweeping conclusions on smaller samples. I think I only watched two episodes of Farscape before I proclaimed it dumb and introduced legislation to limit its broadcast.

My conclusion is that this study is consistent with previous investigations which have found systematic behavioral, personality, and genetic variation between people who express liberal versus conservative political ideologies. The simplest explanation for these consistent findings, IMO, is that these studies are investigating real differences. To me, it’s much less likely that most of these studies (this one simply being the latest) had serious methodological, sampling, or design errors, yet arrived at similar conclusions. In that case, I’d expect to find little consistency in results across studies.

The statistics used take sample size into account, so 42 isn’t excessively low. A smaller sample simply leads to a larger correlation required before you can rule out random variation producing the observed correlation. And remember, this study only had 42 participants, but it’s consistent with the findings from participants in additional studies. In a sense, there’s a much larger sample size that’s been used to investigate hypotheses related to correlates of political ideology.

Point taken on the unrepresentativeness of the sample; I suspect most of these studies were done on college undergrads. It could be that the various differences associated with political ideology in educated young adults don’t hold up in middle or old age, or don’t apply to folks who don’t attend college.

So my confidence in these findings might change as additional data become available. I’m pretty good at adapting to new input though; it’s almost like my brain’s hard-wired to deal with shifting information patterns.

Are you really a liberal, or a closeted conservative? Teh science knows…

I’m probably going to sound like an idiot here, because I really don’t know much about this stuff - I just find it interesting there seem to be alot of studies along these lines lately, but seems to me what we’re talking about is chunking.

This is a gaming site, I’m a gamer. I was reading Raph Koster’s book and he talks about the root of “fun” coming from untangling patterns and feeling satisfaction at resolving them successfully. Learning is, evidently, fun. There’s more to it than that but one idea he introduced to me is that the human brain tends to just autopilot its way through life for the most part. You get into habits and routines which end up, cognatively, as so many reruns or heavy rotation mental routines. That’s called chunking.

You don’t really think about most of what you do in your life. None of us do.

Seems to me that some people are wired to better handle developing new chunking routines or halting chunking routines to actual apply cognative horsepower to new information.

That’s assuming this study is correct, which I don’t necessarily assume.

What does trouble me is the logical conclusion. Conservatives (self-identified, but in different countries and different eras you might have been talking about Communist Party rank and file or National Socialist true believers) aren’t wired to deal with the real world if it gets in the way of their habits and predispositions.

This would seem to state that’s a bad thing and my assumption would be we have to do something about it, right? But then we have the opposite problem. People using this as a political argument to attack their opponents. “Obviously, conservatives can’t think for themselves so they’re not fit to run the country.” But how true is that? Love him or hate him, Newt Gingrich has plenty of ideas. Maybe too many ideas. Look at the neocons, boy, those guys are doing nothing but thinking and congratulating each other on what high quality thinking it is. They need to get outside a bit more and into the sunlight and this coming from a gamer.

So let’s imagine a science fiction future where this is the accepted wisdom. Who, then, will determine which people can’t handle changing circumstances? A new generation of people that accept the conventional wisdom as rote truth. Seems to me they’d be the conservatives of that era and with a stranglehold on all political discourse using these arguments as a bludgeon.

Since no one mocked the two typos in the title, please allow me to do so now. Neurocognative? Corellates? Ha ha. All right, enough of that. Moving on…

The notion that political preference is correlated with significant differences in neural activity and cognition really seems absurd to me. Without very strong support from multiple studies by respected scientists, I would be inclined to consign this to the nonsense bin. Journal of Irreproducible Results material. I admit I am not going to subscribe to Nature just to find out how good the research was, though, but it sounds more like a hoax than serious research to me.

In ancient times, when liberalism had not yet evolved and most cultures were despotic and almost all politics were inherently conservative, was that reflected in brain structure? Did the (relatively) liberal Athenians have different brains from the Thebans? Did the liberal reformation-era Dutch have different brains from the conservative reformation-era Spanish? During the French Revolution, when everyone was suddenly far to the left, did all the Jacques Bonhomme brains have to adapt to changing times? When Napoleon took over and suddenly everyone was a conservative again, was there a popping sound as the brains reverted? Even in the United States, when everyone was a liberal during the middle of the 20th century, did their cognitive capabilities suddenly twitch and contort into new forms when Reagan took over and conservatism became chic?

Seriously, politics is so contingent on superficial things news, personalities, current affairs and society that this kind of study really seems to me to be entirely bogus, sight unseen.