Liberals, Conservatives May Have Different Brain Structures
April 8, 2011 at 3:51 PM CDT - Updated June 23 at 7:10 PM
Opposing political views may be linked to differences in brain structures, a new study suggests.
Researchers at University College London found that liberals tend to have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, while conservatives have a larger amygdala.
Based on what's known about the roles of these two areas of the brain, the structural differences are consistent with previous studies that found liberals are better able to cope with conflicting information and are more open to new experiences, while conservatives are better able to recognize a threat and more anxious when faced with uncertainty, according to team leader Ryota Kanai and colleagues.
The study appears online April 7 in the journal Current Biology.
"Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual's political orientation. Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure," Kanai said in a journal news release.
But it's not clear whether political preferences and other personality traits influence brain structure or vice versa. It's possible that a person's experiences can change brain structure over time and, of course, many people change their political views during their lifetime, Kanai noted.
He also warned against reading too much into these findings.
"It's very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions," Kanai said. "More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude."