Study shows political views linked to brain structures

Photo courtesy of the College Republicans.

Partisan unrest is nothing new in politics. But it has been especially newsworthy lately over legislation discrepancies, a near government shutdown and the usual push to form “exploratory committees” for president.

As the battle for power between Republicans and Democrats surges on in the nation’s Capitol, one question may be asked: Where does the strong difference in beliefs among liberals and conservatives stem from?

Not surprisingly, the brain.

In a recent study by University College London, it was found that liberals and conservatives have different brain structures.

The study surveyed and brain-scanned 90 healthy young adults. The scans showed those who categorized themselves as liberals had a larger anterior cingulate cortex, which is an area involved in processing conflicting information.

On the other hand, those who said they were conservatives on the political spectrum had a larger amygdala, which is an important region in recognizing threats and fear.

Ryota Kanai, a professor in the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and conductor of the study, said although the study was a start, more work is necessary to determine how the brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude.

The study lends itself to the question of how one determines their political beliefs, and what actions they take to affirm them.

In 2010, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found college students are typically more liberal. The study says a college degree moves a person toward the Democratic side of the spectrum, whereas greater civic knowledge moves one toward the Republican end.

But do students agree with these studies?

Jilly Gokalgandhi, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said she feels students are generally more politically independent because college is a time to figure out who they are and to reassess their beliefs.

She also said, however, that a lot of students follow their parents’ political ideals, so it is especially important to find their own passions while in school.

“It’s important to give students a variety of things they can choose from, so they can discover their passions and focus on a specific cause,” Gokalgandhi said.

Two members of the College Republicans said conservatism is not communicated well in today’s society.

Patrick Garrett, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences, said conservative ideas are not represented as well on college campuses as liberal views are. He said most college professors are liberals, and that polls of younger voters have shown they tend to lean toward Democratic candidates.

“It is unfortunate that so many young people are not involved and educated or do not vote,” he said. “When you talk about the state of the economy, we are talking about an economy that will have a huge impact on our lives.”

Ethan Hollenberger, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration and president of the College Republicans, echoed the idea of the younger generation not being involved. He emphasized the importance of asking questions, and said it is vital for people not to take what they hear at face value.

“Everyone wants to get a job and live the American dream,” he said. “But the more important thing is educating people on politics in a more effective manner.”