Intergroup Strife | Nature-nurture | Tribal Gene | What shapes political views | Political Poarization | Politics and Anti-Science | Unholly alliance (Conservatives - Christian Right - Anti-science) | Stupidity - Group Think
Nature - Nurture and political views.

Here are a couple of recent articles on liberals vs conservatives, bigotry, and links to subjects related to why we think and act the way we do.

My son, a neuroscientist, says, "Drawing broad conclusions about motivations based on relative size of brain regions or increased levels of activity can be fraught with complications, so tread carefully as you read." He refers to, Neuroscience - Under Attack - , where among other things they reference,
A team of British scientists recently analyzed nearly 3,000 neuroscientific articles published in the British press between 2000 and 2010 and found that the media regularly distorts and embellishes the findings of scientific studies.
  Some of this literature smacks of 'eugenics", the belief that some humans are genetically inferior.
In the 19th century most educated Brits thought the Highland Scots and Irish were inferior. Slavery/racism in the U.S. and elsewhere is another example. The worst example of course was Hitlers Aryan master race theory resulting in the Holocaust.

They conclude on a lighter note with, "Brain imaging, no matter how sophisticated and precise, will ever tell us what women really want."

Nonetheless I'll go ahead and refer to some recent articles below which you will have to evaluate yourself.

Conservatives and Liberals Have Different Brains, Studies Show - ABC News Sept. 2012
This report comes from Differences in Conservative and Liberal Brains -
  They gathered 13 peer-reviewed studies of behavioral and neurological studies and come to the conclusion that differences between Republicans and Democrats are more than skin-deep.
  Below are a few of their observations. See the ProCon article for the complete list.

Researchers noted that Democrats had larger anterior cingulate cortexes, which are associated with tolerance to uncertainty, while Republicans had larger right amygdalas, which are associated with sensitivity to fear.
Source: Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults; "Current Biology" 21, 677-680, April 26, 2011

Conservatives have more activity in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, the part of the brain that activates for complex social evaluations. The observation that this region was increasingly activated by conservative beliefs could be explained by claiming that conservative statements require more complex social judgments marked by greater cognitive dissonance between self-interest and sense of fairness...
Source: Individualism, conservatism, and radicalism as criteria for processing political beliefs: A parametric fMRI study - Social Neuroscience, Sept. 2009

I thought the 2nd study, which concluded, "Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism", sounded a little biased, but one thing they did was to have Participants indicate their political attitudes by responding to several statements; half did so while their cognitive resources were depleted by working on a second task concurrently. So it not that conservatives are lazy and don't think things thru they just are distracted or more interested in social impacts.

Liberals are more open-minded and creative whereas conservatives are more orderly and better organized.

Psychiatrist Greg Appelbaum said the studies point toward conservatives' tendency to avoid something called self-harm, while liberals avoid collective group harm.
Appelbaum goes on to say someone's brain makeup doesn't necessarily predispose that person to think one way or another politically, calling it a "chicken or the egg issue." In fact, it's possible that a person's political thinking can change their physiological traits.
Source: "Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism" - Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38(6) 808-820 2012 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc seems to have a liberal bias. I did a web search and there were a few complaints of bias, but no specific examples of blatant mistakes or distortions.

See also:
Liberal and Conservative Anterior Cingulate Cortices - Mixing Memory
Religion and the Brain

Nature vs Nurture
A Nov 18, 2012 60 minutes program "Born good? Babies help unlock the origins of morality" highlights a study at Yale's "Baby Lab". Paul Bloom, professor of Psychology has been studying the moral life of babies for many years and has recently discovered that, perhaps, there is evidence children as young as six-months old have biases against certain people.

Bloom and his associates would offer a child either cereal or crackers and note their decision. Later, the researchers would set the child in front of a couple puppets and the child would watch as the puppets chose whether to eat cereal or crackers, too. Later, the child was offered the chance to hold one of the puppets. Around 87% of the time, children would choose the puppet that picked the same food they'd earlier chosen.

See How to Lead People Past Anger and Hate (New Study Suggests We Were Born With Prejudices) | Storyline Blog
and Nature/Nurture
Claudia M. Gold, MD in her blog entry "Child in Mind: Yale lab calls babies bigots- a worrisome interpretation" says, "Using such a negative word to describe a baby feels a bit like a prejudice itself.
Babies are shown out of relational context in interaction with a toy, while they are in the heart of the process of developing a sense of self in relation to others."

Enemies Gene:
Here's my take for what it's worth. My son, a neuroscientist, doesn't buy it.

A couple of our recent Bible studies I attend we discussed dealing with enemies (forgiveness, tolerance, ...)

I got to thinking about why most people, including myself, have an enemies list, even if it is unconscious. It isn't just Nixon and Hillary!

In our 300,000 year history as a species, homo sapiens have gone thru multiple famines. When visiting the Copan ruins in Honduras mission trips they speculated that the Mayans may have died out because their population grew too fast and they could not survive a long famine.

Societies who could keep their populations at an optimal level had a survival advantage. Without the pill, identifying enemies and driving them away or killing them was a good way to do this.

These survival instincts come from the inner brain (Limbic system) where things like emotions, fear, anger, sex come from.
The outer brain (Cerebral Cortex), which is larger in humans and distinguishes us from other animals uses reason to moderate these more primitive instincts. Some people do a better job of that than others.
It doesn't mean these people are smarter, there are tons of examples of very smart people who let their primitive instincts get out of control.

Since the green revolution (synthetic fertilizers, mechanical harvesters, ...) in the last 120 years, developed countries have not had a food problem. But global warming and population growth could change that.

Since we have enough food, the need to impress others may have replaced survival as a primary motivator in developed societies. Materialism and social ideologies are two things people use to get respect. Governments and politicians, who want to take money away from the well off to provide food and health care to the less well off are restricting our ability to accumulate stuff. So they and the people who vote for them become our enemies.
There is a large body of psychology on why some people have a stronger need to impress others and it's beyond my understanding and the scope of this superficial note.

See also The Hate Gene

At Red Brain, Blue Brain | Hidden Brain : NPR, Shankar Vedantam, talks about studies by John Hibbing is a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Hibling makes the following observations.
Trait Liberal Conservative
What they embrase Order, predictability Ambiguity, experimentation
Living and Work Spaces Experiential things, Books, diverse CDs
somewhat messy
Sports memorabilia, Things to organize, calendars, clothes baskets
Food Variety, Ethnic etc. Meat and Potatoes
Pets Both are just as likely to have pets
Treat as a family member Just an animal
World Full of threats. We must protect ourselves and our family. Aware of dangers, but don't feel as threatened by them.

  • Hibbing, J. R., Smith, K. B., & Alford, J. R. - Book (2013). Predisposed: Liberals, conservatives, and the biology of political differences.
    Parenting Style May Shape Kids' Political Views As Adults |
    Cognitive Dissonance - Self Esteem (flip-flopping)
    Nature/Nuture - Genes vs Environment
    Religion and the Brain
    Politics and Religion
    Creation - Evolution - Intelligent Design
    Politics and Science
    Civil Discourse
    How Your View of God Shapes Your View of the Economy | Religion & Politics
    Confrontation - Resolution
    Political ideologies in the United States - Wikipedia
    Theories of political behavior - Wikipedia
    Neuroscience - Under Attack -

    last updated 25 Nov 2012