Biological Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives

I think we’ve all noticed that conservatives just don’t think like us. I’m speaking of the hard core conservatives who buy the fictional worldview put out by Fox and right wing talk radio. There also conservatives who do reject much of the current nonsense coming from the right, many of whom have been ostracized by the conservative movement and who we can rationally discuss issues with even if there are differences of opinion. Other conservatives just seem to be incapable of rational thought based upon facts as opposed to repeating right wing talking points. There might even be biological evidence for the different type of thought seen on the far right according to a report in The Telegraph

Scientists have found that people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions.

On the otherhand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life.

The “exciting” correlation was found by scientists at University College London who scanned the brains of two members of parliament and a number of students.

They found that the size of the two areas of the brain directly related to the political views of the volunteers.

However as they were all adults it was hard to say whether their brains had been born that way or had developed through experience…

The results, which will be published next year, back up a study that showed that some people were born with a “Liberal Gene” that makes people more likely to seek out less conventional political views.

Via Raw Story, an abstract on the report from October showing a difference in genetic makeup between liberals and conservatives can be found here.

There are many obvious limitations to this, and it will be interesting to read the entire study when published. I will assume for the sake of discussion that differences between liberals and conservatives in the UK are comparable to those here, but that is far from certain.

The most obvious example which supports this hypothesis in the United States was the 9/11 attack, with current divisions between American liberals and conservatives being largely redrawn based upon response to the attack and view of the Bush administration’s response. Conservatives were motivated by fear to the point of irrationality. This was seen in how easily they were manipulated to support an attack on Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, as well as how easily they fell into line supporting restrictions on civil liberties.

If there are really biological differences, it would be interesting to see the degree to which this correlates with the subservience to right wing authority seen by the conservative movement. It is certainly easy to see the correlation between being driven by fear and their willingness to surrender civil liberties and follow their leader.

This might also correlate with other common characteristics of American conservatives such as religious beliefs. The best predictor of voting behavior in the United States  is frequency of Church attendance, which might be related to both more primitive thought processes and to a fear of crossing their god. Unfortunately, this commonly extends to the desire of conservatives to use the power of the state to impose their religious views upon other.

This might also extend to the racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and xenophobia which is common, even if not universal, on the right. Conservatives commonly fear and hate those who look or think differently from them. While it has become fashionable on the right to object to such characterizations, their denials are hardly taken seriously by those on the outside who observe how it influences many of their positions.

This propensity towards fear and hatred of those who are seen as different has been exploited by the right wing noise machine, regardless of whether these attitudes are biological or learned (and I suspect it is a combination of the two). Just look at the effective manner by which they have demonized liberals in the minds of many. They portray liberals as holding a wide variety of views which have nothing to do with the actual views of most liberals. I certainly would not support liberals or vote for Democrats if they held half the views attributed to them by the right. This promotes the opposition to liberalism and identification with conservatism among many of them, and even has some influence on non-conservatives. This leads to the frequent poll finding that a majority identify themselves as conservatives while supporting the liberal position on polls based upon specific positions as opposed to labels.

We have seen increased polarization between left and right in recent years, and I believe the panic on the right caused by 9/11 has exacerbated this. Part of this very well might be because liberals and conservatives are wired to view the world differently, making communication between the two more difficult.

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  1. 1
    LCR says:

    I would like to see a study that shows a larger than usual lobal region for those that argue for ideas that have killed hundreds of millions but “hasn’t been done the right way yet”

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    History has been a succession of our lives improving as liberal ideas are adopted. It is remarkable how conservatives stick to ideas which have repeatedly failed and harmed us. On the other hand, they viciously fight liberal ideas but once they have passed and improved our lives, the majority then just accept them and move on to new battles. Sometimes the most fanatic conservatives will continue to fight the old battles, but often conservatives do wind up accepting the same liberal ideas they spent so much time fighting.

  3. 3
    vallie says:

    RT @RonChusid Biolgical Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives–why conservatives are dominated by fear.

  4. 4
    Fudo Myoo says:

    it's really not their fault?» Biolgical Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives Liberal Values

  5. 5
    Daniel Stevens says:

    » Biolgical Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives Liberal …: The most obvious example which supports …

  6. 7
    Infidel753 says:

    It’s really hard to give much credence to a substantial genetic component of political ideology, given how many individuals’ ideological views change over time, and how the very definition of what it means to be liberal or conservative has changed over historical time-scales much shorter than those of biological evolution.
    Brain structure in particular is strongly influenced by the environment.  These differences in brain structure might well be the product of the same differences in life experience and influences that gave rise to the different political views, rather than being a product of genetics.
    It might well be that there are genetic propensities to fear or irrationality, and that people born with such genes might in fact grow up to be more fearful or irrational than the general population in many cases, and that people who are more fearful and irrational might be more likely to be conservative — but it’s an awfully tenuous correlation, obviously far outweighed at every step by the influences of the environment.

  7. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    The question is not whether we find it plausible but whether the evidence bears this out. Until the study is published it does give some grounds for speculation in a blog post.

    There is more than one study which shows some possible biological markers which correlate with ideology. These are based upon our current definitions of liberal versus conservative so the historical changes are not really a problem. There are also common trends to conservatism which hold in many periods. What is really important is these characteristics, not the labels which are applied. For example, if there really were to turn out to be biological differences, I would expect the leaders of Communist countries to come out as distinctly conservative (with them often considered conservative by their country’s standards).

    It is hard to imagine that these distinctions would be absolute, and if these differences turn out to be meaningful I would wonder if people who change beliefs show differences from the norm for their group. There must certainly be strong environmental influences (and I would suspect they would be stronger than any biological influences even if present). It would be interesting to see if people who change their position are people without the clear cut differences (if any really exist) or if they are people whose biological propensities vary from their environmental influences.

    If there is anything to this study I would like to see it repeated with a larger sample, including people from other countries including the United States. It would also be necessary to repeat these studies over time. From the little information available in the media reports, I think that if these biological differences exist is is just as likely that they are the result of different thought processes rather than the cause. If there is anything to this, it would be fascinating to see how such factors correlate with the development of a person’s views over time, or if there are any changes with change in views.

  8. 9
    Willow says:

    I tend to agree with this.  I grew up with very fiscally conservative parents,  yet they were socially liberal.  My Mom was saying gays should be allowed in the military in the 70s.  My Dad would buy homeless people coffee and a hamburger and give it to them on the street.  Yet they were VERY fiscally conservative.  Gradually as my political beliefs were being formed,  vietnam moratoriums were about.  SDS was active,  and Woodstock became my dream vacation, even tho I was only 16.  I now am a very liberal socialistic democrat.  And I live,  would you believe it?  In Rep. Steve King’s district in Iowa.  I occasionally walk through the grocery store wondering which 67% of the people buying food voted for him.  Because there are some very socially conservative people in this district.  This is all Dutch Reformed people.  And they will never change.  I am number 126  Democrat in my county as opposed to Republicans 2700.  So I would tend to agree that is a combination of learned and biological.

  9. 11
    Craig MacNaughton says:

    Biological Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives –

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