Friday, February 15, 2013

2 new scientific studies on liberal and conservative brains

Chris Mooney reports on this story in Mother Jones. One study noted our predisposition for fear is genetically influenced. If we have the fear gene we're much more likely to be conservative politically and "less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own." One of the researchers noted though that genetics is not destiny, and environment plays a part as well.

Which brings us to the second study on gambling risk and fear. Here Republicans were activating their amygdala, our threat response system. Democrats however "were using the insula, involved in internal monitoring of one's feelings." Note that in terms of recent prior posts the amygdala is more a zombie program and the insula is associated more with conscious control.

Another interesting point from the 2nd study is that one's political environment can affect one's brain via neuroplasticity. "Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes." In that light see this recent study on how meditation has been shown to increase gyrification is certain brains areas, including the insula.

"The insula has been suggested to function as a hub for autonomic, affective and cognitive integration," said Luders. "Meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula."

Self regulation and integration. Huh. Sounds consistent with recent posts on the neuroscience of meditation and conscious deliberation. I wonder how many people that meditate for any length of time are Republican? See this study for that one. Conclusion: "Apparently, the meditation made people feel more connected and inclusive and thus reduced their conservative attitudes." Also see this article, that applies the mediation research to conservative personality disorder.

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