Teri Kanefield

Liberals and conservatives have different brain types. Let’s think about that.

Current Biology is a peer-reviewed journal “widely valued among life scientist for its unique blend of important research papers and informed, lively commentary.”

According to this Current Biology article, research via MRI scans revealed that self-described conservative students have a larger amygdala than liberals. The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is active during states of fear and anxiety. Liberals have more gray matter at least in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain that helps people cope with complexity.

Thus, to a conservative, “The world really is a frightening place.” Given the differences in their brains, “it is hardly surprising that liberals and conservatives should spend so much time talking across each other and never achieving real dialog or consensus.”

Liberals, who do not experience the world as a fearful place, turn on Fox News and feel repulsed by what looks to a liberal as shameless fear mongering.

Conservatives turn on Fox News and feel reassured that someone understands their fears. As one of my conservative friends told me, “Fox News, and Trump, tell people what they want to hear.”

Those on the left, with more gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, are more comfortable with complexity and nuance. Those on the far right feel impatient, and even hostile, toward nuanced arguments.

To those on the left, nothing is more horrifying than a dictator (authoritarian figure) or a police state.

It’s important for liberals to remember, though, that as we move farther to the right on the political spectrum (in other words, as we encounter more fearful people) we find those who want an authoritarian government / police state.

In the words of John Dean,

The difference this time is the authoritarianism. That’s the hidden explanation of the 2016 elections. Who voted for Trump? Who are these people who, as he famously said, would let him shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still support him? It’s people who want too strong a leader, who would do what that leader tells them. Similar to the Europeans following Mussolini and Hitler. There’s a streak in humanity that likes that kind of leader. That’s Trump’s core. Authoritarianism.

I just keep thinking about this.


Updated February 24, 2018.

Adding: Here’s another, more recent article entitled, “Fear and Anxiety Drive Conservative Political Attitudes.”