Are you amazed at how things went in yesterday’s U.S. midterm election? Can you not believe your fellow citizens would vote that way (whichever way it is you disagree with)? Don’t blame them. A timely new study suggest they’re probably just wired that way.
P. Read Montague of Virginia Tech was intrigued by studies showing that political affiliation actually seems to be heritable through generations and are tied to other factors such as a person’s attitudes toward sex and personal autonomy. He and his colleagues suspected that these leanings were all actually tied to deeper connections to how our bodies react to threats of “contamination or violence.”
So they devised a simple experiment. They used an MRI to scan the brains of people while they looked at pleasant, neutral, and really gross images. The findings were compared to the subject’s scores on a standardized test of political leanings.
They found that the gross images, especially images of animal mutilation, caused neural responses that were highly predictive of political orientation.
“A single disgusting image was sufficient to predict each subject’s political orientation,” Montague says. “I haven’t seen such clean predictive results in any other functional imaging experiments in our lab or others.”
Exactly how and why liberal conservative brains are different is something that still needs to be studied, but Montague suggests simply admitting the people have different initial “kneejerk” responses to topics might help diffuse political conflicts.
“The results do not provide a simple bromide, but they do suggest that important foundational parts of political attitudes ride on top of pre-established neural responses that may have served to defend our forebears against environmental threats,” Montague says. “In the same sense that height is highly genetically specified, it’s also true that it’s not predetermined by genetics; nutrition, sleep, starvation, dramatic physical injury, and so on can serve to change one’s ultimate height. However, tall people have tall children, and this is a kind of starting point.”
“In the same vein, if we can begin to see that some ‘knee-jerk’ reactions to political issues may be simply that — reactions — then we might take the temperature down a bit in the current boiler of political discourse.”
[Source: Cell Press]
Image via Wikimedia Commons