Research: Partisanship Could Re-Wire Your Brain
February 15, 2013 by Sam Rolley
Research from a group of political scientists and neuroscientists reveals that political preference can have an impact on how the brain functions.
The findings, published in PLOS ONE, demonstrate that Democrats and Republicans rely on different parts of the brain when they make decisions that could be considered risky. Though the researchers suggest that parental influence and genetics play the biggest role in brain development, they contend that political affiliation also influences the brain’s function.
To find out how much politics affect how the brain works, Darren Schreiber, Ph.D., a researcher in neuropolitics at the University of Exeter, examined the brain activity of groups of Americans in a lab environment as they played a simple gambling game. He and his team then looked up the political party registration of the 82 participants in public records. They found that Democrats and Republicans take similar risks, but differ greatly in what parts of the brain lead them to do so during a high-risk activity.
Schreiber concluded, seemingly appropriately, that liberals are more likely to concentrate with the left side of the brain (insula) and conservatives (amygdala) with the right. According to the researchers, neuroscientists often associate the left brain with social and self-awareness and the right brain with fight-or-flight reflexes.
The researchers believe that by simply monitoring brain activity, they could determine whether a person is a Democrat or a Republican with 82.9 percent accuracy.
“Although genetics have been shown to contribute to differences in political ideology and strength of party politics, the portion of variation in political affiliation explained by activity in the amygdala and insula is significantly larger, suggesting that affiliating with a political party and engaging in a partisan environment may alter the brain, above and beyond the effect of heredity,” Schreiber said.