Conservative people really have larger amygdalae

The difference is in the brain

Jonathan Haidt identified five moral foundations on which our value judgments are based: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and purity. Haidt sees good evolutionary reasons for each of these modules. Evolution has favored women and men who are touched by the sight of a suffering child and encouraged to act (care). A sense of justice was important in order not to be ripped off in a cooperative community (fairness) and disgust for body fluids or certain animals protected people from contracting an illness (purity). For Haidt, the five categories are something like the primary colors of our morality. A wide variety of characters can be mixed out of them - and apparently that is exactly the case with liberals and conservatives. While liberals derive their political convictions primarily from fairness and care, conservatives rate all five modules roughly equally.

Liberals and conservatives (in the American sense) even want their dogs to conform to this moral matrix, says Haidt. Liberals wanted dogs that were gentle (care) and not submissive to their master, but rather as friends (fairness). Conservatives, on the other hand, also want loyalty and obedience (authority) from their dogs.

Many studies now confirm that conservatives and liberals see the world with different eyes. Hatemi and McDermott were able to show that liberals focus more on faces in political images, while conservatives looked longer at parts of the picture that showed patriotic symbols or objects that inspire fear.

In another study, researchers showed test subjects pictures of a wound with maggots or a spider crawling over a frightened face and measured their physical responses, such as the electrical resistance of the skin, which changes when excited. People who were for the death penalty and school prayers, among other things, but against stricter gun laws or gay marriage, showed a significantly higher shock reaction than people with liberal convictions. “Conservatives obviously naturally react more strongly to negative or threatening stimuli. That is the main difference. "

And it shows up in the brain too. Ryota Kanai from University College London examined 90 students in the brain scanner. Test subjects who described themselves as very conservative had a larger amygdala on average. The almond-shaped structure is involved in detecting and responding to threats. “Based on the images, we were able to predict with a hit rate of 70 percent whether a test person harbored liberal or conservative convictions,” says Kanai.

Such a study cannot clarify whether the differences in the brain are the cause or effect of political attitudes. But it confirms the view of psychologists that conservatives and liberals perceive the world differently.

"If we realize that people with whom we don't politically agree with us perceive the world differently than we are and are not just stupid, maybe we can talk to each other more friendly again," says Hibbing.

In any case, the results do not apply to all voters. Hibbing estimates that around 20 percent of the population on the right and left fringes of the political spectrum are so politically influenced that their opinion can hardly be changed. “But in the middle there are many people with contradicting predispositions who can be won over to one side or the other.” They include the coveted “swing voters” on whom Obama and Romney focus their work.

And then there are the non-voters. Researcher John Dawes compared data from a twin registry in California with election data in Los Angeles. Here, too, there were strong differences between identical and dizygotic twins. Whether we even vote depends 60 percent on our genes, Dawes concluded.

Studies in other countries have looked at people who take part in demonstrations or write to their MPs and have found similar results. Some people are evidently not by nature a political animal.

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