Can Neuroscience Predict Political Ideology?
Neuroscientists at the University of South Carolina recently conducted a study comparing the brain scans of Democrats and Republicans, and found that brains are wired differently for each.
The study focused on the specific brain network, called the mirror neuron system, a network linked to a host of social and emotional abilities and responsible for social interactions.
Brains Wired Differently
- MRI scans showed disparities in brain activity
- Democrats focused on friends, the world
- Republicans focused on family, the country
Source: University of South Carolina study
Democrats tend to value the connections they have with their friends and the world. Republicans tend to place more value in the connections they have with their family and the nation. Republicans have a preference for tight social connections, while Democrats have more of a preference for wider social connections.
Can Predict One’s Political Party
- Parental affiliation: 69.5% accurate
- Brain structure: 71.6% accurate
- Brain activity while taking risks: 82.9% accurate
“The (brain) differences could be a result of genetics, experiences, or a combination of both,” lead researcher Roger Newman-Norlund. “It takes a lot of effort to see the other side and we’re not going to wake up one day and all start getting along.”
Understanding the differences and their origins, however, is a step in the right direction, he said.
In fact, Dr. Darren Schreiber, a researcher in neuropolitics at the University of Exeter who authored a similar study, stresses that these findings do not show that we are hardwired to be one thing or another (in this case Democrat or Republican), but insists that we are “hardwired not to be hardwired”.
As Schreiber says, “We are finding that the brain can change in response to the environment, i.e., we can change our minds. We can change our allies into enemies and enemies into allies.”
These findings can also be valuable from a larger perspective in that it can provide an understanding that there are fundamental differences (and similarities) in each of us which can impact our relationships with one another. By understanding that each of our brains are wired differently, we then have the opportunity to approach relationships with the understanding that there are differences between each of us with hopes that this will foster empathy and tolerance amongst one another.