The brain neurons of liberals and conservatives fire differently when confronted with tough choices, suggesting that some political divides may be hard-wired, according a study released Sunday.
Conservatives tend to crave order and structure in their lives, and are more consistent in the way they make decisions. Liberals, by contrast, show a higher tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, and adapt more easily to unexpected circumstances.
In other words, we see the world as a nuanced place. Shades of gray. not all-black or all-white.
MORE: I guess another outcome of the study was that liberals tend to process things, while conservatives acted in a predictable knee-jerk reaction kind of way:
Here’s how it worked: college students, whose politics ranged from “very liberal” to “very conservative,” were tested on their ability to recognize a change in stimulus. While sitting in front of a monitor, study participants were shown either an M or a W. When an M appeared on screen, the participants were instructed to tap a keyboard. When a W appeared, they were supposed to do nothing.
M appeared four times from frequently, so the college students got into a habit of tapping the keyboard in a “knee-jerk fashion.”
Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.
More specifically, liberals were more than twice as likely to correctly identify the changes on the monitor, and on electrical measurements of the brain area that monitored the conflict “between a habitual tendency … and a more appropriate response,” liberals were five times more likely to show brain activity.
And just in case the letters mattered, researchers tried it again with lots of Ws and fewer Ms, and the results were the same.