Sep 11 2007

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Mana

Why Liberals and Conservatives Think Worlds Appart

Posted at 1:06 pm under Politics, Science and Technology, Society

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For those who ever wondered why conservatives and liberals think so differently, it appears to be more than just a political matter, but that liberals and conservatives use different cognitive styles. Their brains respond differently to new information and decision-making requests ("greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern"). LA Times reports that according to a study published today in the Journal of Nature Neuroscience, "Liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy." When given a test to press letter M (which appeared most frequently) when seeing the letter on a screen but refrain from pressing W when seeing it on the screen, liberals were more accurate and refrained more frequently from pressing W. In other words, liberals were able to better navigate cognitive conflict and react appropriately when conservatives were more likely to follow an established pattern and express habitual tendencies. Call it knee-jerking.

The results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind about the conflict. Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Why Liberals and Conservatives Think Worlds Appart”

  1. johnnyon 11 Sep 2007 at 9:49 pm 1

    I found this very interesting. However, I am a little skeptical. How exactly is mistaking a M for a W, translate into dispositions for political values. Also, isn’t the study implicitly claiming that liberals are more intelligent, i.e. they can understand distinctions more clearly?

  2. Mana Master of Mischiefon 12 Sep 2007 at 8:00 am 2

    In my description I tried to simplify the explanation of the text. The Ms appeared more frequently than the Ws in the first test. So imagine typing M 47 times in a row not knowing when next W would appear. Conservatives had more trouble typing W when it appeared on the screen after a repetitive string of Ms, for example. They also repeated the experiment with W being more frequent and achieved the same results.

    And no, the study only refers to cognitive patterns not to intelligence–”neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern”. It looked to identify activity in the brain during these tests and correlated it with socio/political affiliation.

    The way I interpreted it is if our brain is like a computer program that continually writes itself based on every moment’s cognitive inputs, when it comes to overwriting/rewriting or correcting code the liberal brain seems to take more time and analyze before rewriting its code, when the conservative brain has a harder time breaking and rewriting patters.

  3. heatheron 13 Sep 2007 at 2:26 pm 3

    Fascinating research.
    I think the difference is indeed to do with open-mindedness - willingness to think about evidence and to rethink it when the situation changes.
    To realise that some people’s brains are naturally more comfortable with repeating learned patterns might actually explain why irrational belief systems continue to be propagated.

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