| The evidence has been accumulating for several years now that liberals and conservatives are just different, on a neurophysiological level.
All the studies seem, so far, to point to specific differences in the brain structure. Conservatives tend to have larger amygdalas and smaller anterior cingulates, while liberals display inverse neurophysiologicl traits -- a smaller amygdala and a larger anterior cingulate. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for more "primitive" emotions and impulses, like fear and "fight or flight." The anterior cingulate is responsible for adaptability, courage, and optimism.
If the study is confirmed, it could give us the first medical explanation for why conservatives tend to be more receptive to threats of terrorism, for example, than liberals. And it may help to explain why conservatives like to plan based on the worst-case scenario, while liberals tend towards rosier outlooks.
"It is very significant because it does suggest there is something about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some way determines or results in our political attitudes," Geraint Rees, the neurologist who carried out the study, told the media.
Rees, who heads up UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, was originally asked half-jokingly to study the differences between liberal and conservative brains for an episode of BBC 4's Today show that was hosted by actor Colin Firth. But, after studying 90 UCL students and two British parliamentarians, the neurologist was shocked to discover a clear correlation between the size of certain brain parts and political views.
The liberal in me wants to jump up and down and dance in the end zone. The scientific researcher in me is stopping me from doing so. Even the hard sciences of physics and chemistry are rarely settled and there are very few laws, so I know better than to look for -- or make -- sweeping proclamations about the neurophysiological superiority of the liberal brain any time soon.
But still...I figured out long, long ago that there was something different about some folks, that there was no talking to them because they can't get past their fears. And it wasn't lost on me that for as much as they talked about "free will" they sure as hell didn't display much.
And I would be lying my ass off if I denied thinking that it is a delicious irony that evolution, assessing a group of conservatives who steadfastly refuse to believe in it, might have snorted and said "Yeah? Right back atcha."