The differences between liberals and conservatives run wide and deep, and a new study suggests they may even be reflected in the very structure of their brains.
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In the study, led by Ryota Kanai of the University College London, people who identified themselves as liberals generally had a larger anterior cingulate cortex — a comma-shaped region near the front of the brain that is involved in decision-making. By contrast, those who identified as conservatives had larger amygdalas — almond-shaped structures that are linked with emotional learning and the processing of fear. (More on TIME.com: In Politics, It’s Survival of the Fittest, Literally)
These structural differences, the authors suggest, support previous reports of differences in personality: liberals tend to be better at managing conflicting information, while conservatives are though to be better at recognizing threats, researchers said. “Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual’s political orientation,” said Kanai in a press release. “Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure.”
For the study, Kanai and his colleagues asked 90 young adults to rank their political views on a five-point scale from very liberal to very conservative. Then, the volunteers underwent structural MRI scans, which revealed “substantial differences” in brain structure. (More on TIME.com: The Politics of Perceiving Skin Color)
This is not the first attempt to locate the biological roots of party affiliation. In an October 2010 study, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard University identified a “liberal gene” — a variant called DRD4-7R, which affects the neurotransmitter dopamine — that has been linked with a personality type driven to seek out new experiences.