Monday, April 11, 2011

The Biology of Thought?

Canada is in the midst of a federal election campaign with the vote slated for May 2. The incumbent Conservative party faces the Liberal and NDP parties. The familiar themes have arisen in the party platforms which mirror many of the traditional conservative and liberal ideologies.

Within this context, it's interesting to read about a study from University College London published this week in Current Biology which has discovered that there are actually differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives. Specifically, liberals' brains tend to be bigger in the area that deals with processing complex ideas and situations, while conservatives' brains are bigger in the area that processes fear.

'According to the report: "We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala." People with larger amygdalae respond to perceived threats with more aggression and "are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions." The anterior cingulate cortex, however, "monitors uncertainty and conflict." "Thus," says the report, "it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.'

Of course, in the U.S. there are the Republican and Democrat persuasions, and similar distinctions exist in the politics of other countries.

One is reluctant to stereotype , but in this day of increased scientific research through digital imaging of the physical brain, findings like this invite some reflection on the way we think and act.