Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Different political beliefs have biological basis

Having a particular political ideology is not just a simple state of mind; it seems to be more deeply rooted in how you function as a human being. Research performed by the Political Physiology Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has shown that there are behavioural differences between people of different political beliefs. Experiments show that having a particular political ideology can be the result of viewing the world in a different way than others.

What they found is that people characterized as being conservative are more heavily startled after hearing a loud noise. They also respond more heavily when looking at pictures that contain something threatening. Differences in brain structures were also found: conservatives have a bigger amygdala, a brain area that makes you respond with fear and anxiety. Liberals on the other hand, were found to have a bigger anterior cingulate cortex than conservatives. This brain area is rather different, as it alters our behaviour in such a way that we are more inclined to take a different course, instead of repeating the same behaviour. The contrast between conservatives and liberals is also likely to be rooted in genes, as genetic identical twins were found to be far more likely to share the same political beliefs than non-identical twins.

According to the researchers that performed the experiments, the studies that reveal differences between conservatives and liberals are to promote tolerance. Because a certain political belief seems to be rooted in your biological behaviour, it shows that it is likely that the differences are to a large extent caused by viewing the world in a different way. Variations in ideas and beliefs also lead to differences in skills: conservatives are more likely to be better with leadership, duty and loyalty, while liberals show on average more nuance, uncertainty and flexibility. All of which are qualities that are needed.

It is hard to believe that such studies will really make people more tolerant towards people with different political beliefs. Biological foundations for a certain ideology are more likely to be exploited to discredit others. But it is interesting to see how one's opinions can be rooted in biological functions. Because we are continuously learning more about the brain and our genes, it is likely we will discover more about the roots of our beliefs and ideas.

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