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The Surprising Brain Differences Between Democrats and Republicans
Two new studies further support the theory that our political decision making could have a neurological basis.
By Chris Mooney | Fri Feb. 15, 2013 4:01 AM PST
It is still considered highly uncool to ascribe a person’s political beliefs, even in part, to that person’s biology: hormones, physiological responses, even brain structures and genes. And no wonder: Doing so raises all kinds of thorny, non-PC issues involving free will, determinism, toleration, and much else.
There’s just one problem: Published scientific research keeps going there, with ever increasing audacity (not to mention growing stacks of data).
The past two weeks have seen not one but two studies published in scientific journals on the biological underpinnings of political ideology. And these studies go straight at the role of genes and the brain in shaping our views, and even our votes.
First, in the American Journal of Political Science , a team of researchers including Peter Hatemi of Penn State University and Rose McDermott of Brown University studied the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own. As McDermott carefully emphasizes, that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” as she puts it .
I interviewed the paper’s lead author, Peter Hatemi, about his research for my 2012 book The Republican Brain. Hatemi is both a political scientist and also a microbiologist, and as he stressed to me, “nothing is all genes, or all environment.” These forces combine to make us who we are, in incredibly intricate ways.
And if Hatemi’s and McDermott’s research blows your mind, get this : Darren Schreiber, a political neuroscientist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, first performed brain scans on 82 people participating in a risky gambling task, one in which holding out for more money increases your possible rewards, but also your possible losses. Later, cross-referencing the findings with the participants’ publicly available political party registration information, Schreiber noticed something astonishing: Republicans, when they took the same gambling risk, were activating a different part of the brain than Democrats.
Republicans were using the right amygdala, the center of the brain’s threat response system. Democrats, in contrast, were using the insula, involved in internal monitoring of one’s feelings. Amazingly, Schreiber and his colleagues write that this test predicted 82.9 percent of the study subjects’ political party choices—considerably better, they note, than a simple model that predicts your political party affiliation based on the affiliation of your parents.
I also interviewed Schreiber for The Republican Brain. He’s a scientist who was once quite cautious about the relevance of brain studies to people’s politics. As he put it to me: “If you had called me four years ago and said, ‘What is your view on whether Republicans and Democrats have different brains?’ I would have said no.” Now, his own published research suggests otherwise.
The current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences your brain.
One again, though, there’s a critical nuance here. Schreiber thinks the current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. The causal arrow seems likely to run in both directions—which would make sense in light of what we know about the plasticity of the brain. Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes.
The two new studies described here are likely connected: It is hard not to infer that fear of outsiders or those different from you—along with greater fear dispositions in general—may be related to the role of amygdala, a brain structure that has been dubbed the “heart and soul of the fear system .” The amygdala has been repeatedly implicated in politics. Indeed, Schreiber’s research builds on prior brain studies: In a group of University College of London students, for instance, conservatives showed more gray matter  in the right amygdala.
So what’s the upshot? How about this: We need a much broader and more thoughtful discussion about what it means if political ideology turns out to be nothing like what we actually thought it was. Scientists working in this new field tend towards the conclusion that the new research should make us more tolerant, not less, of political difference—not to mention a whole lot more humble about our own deeply held beliefs.
Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/02/brain-difference-democrats-republicans
Czeslaw Zalech shared a link.
20 hours ago
Hello dale, this April 2014, we’re commemorating the 99th Anniversary of Armenian Genocide. Would you be kind and join us in this remembrance? Sharing this link with your friends would
be greatly appreciated! Below is our Tribute composition commemorating this horrific tragedy
” Published on Jan 11, 2014
Armenian Genocide is unwanted for convenience sake’s truth about the Islam, and the Genocide.
Horrific endurance of abounded by the world of Armenian people is shoved in the corner, under the dirty carpets of the politics of the day then, and now 100 some years later.
Outside of the election times in the States, or other “western” countries, the truth is unwanted, and most of the time is discouraged, even forbidden.
For a liter of crude oil, an American will not want to hear about Armenian Genocide, and similar issues. The case boils down to a liter of crude oil vs. human life, and a liter of crude oil wins with hands down on the human issues every time.
The price “shocker” at the gas pump is leading the way of obedience to the oil gods, not ethics or human life. This is where the humanity is in the United States, and the western world. The race for success never ends here.”
How Sex Affects Intelligence, and Vice Versa
New research says sexual activity can grow brain cells. Keeping them may be another matter.
Dan Hurley Jan 13 2014, 9:00 AM ET
Forget mindfulness meditation, computerized working-memory training, and learning a musical instrument; all methods recently shown by scientists to increase intelligence. There could be an easier answer. It turns out that sex might actually make you smarter.
Researchers in Maryland and South Korea recently found that sexual activity in mice and rats improves mental performance and increases neurogenesis (the production of new neurons) in the hippocampus, where long-term memories are formed.
In April, a team from the University of Maryland reported that middle-aged rats permitted to engage in sex showed signs of improved cognitive function and hippocampal function. In November, a group from Konkuk University in Seoul concluded that sexual activity counteracts the memory-robbing effects of chronic stress in mice. “Sexual interaction could be helpful,” they wrote, “for buffering adult hippocampal neurogenesis and recognition memory function against the suppressive actions of chronic stress.”
Even brief viewing of pornographic images does interfere with people’s “working memory.”
So growing brain cells through sex does appear to have some basis in scientific fact. But there’s some debate over whether fake sex—pornography—could be harmful. Neuroscientists from the University of Texas recently argued that excessive porn viewing, like other addictions, can result in permanent “anatomical and pathological” changes to the brain. That view, however, was quickly challenged in a rebuttal from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, who said that the Texans “offered little, if any, convincing evidence to support their perspectives. Instead, excessive liberties and misleading interpretations of neuroscience research are used to assert that excessive pornography consumption causes brain damage.”
Whether or not porn “addiction” literally damages the brain, even brief viewing of pornographic images does interfere with people’s “working memory”—the ability to mentally juggle and pay attention to multiple items. A study published last October in the Journal of Sex Research tested the working memory of 28 healthy individuals when they were asked to keep track of neutral, negative, positive, or pornographic stimuli. “Results revealed worse working memory performance in the pornographic picture condition,” concluded Matthias Brand, head of the cognitive psychology department at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.
If having sex can make people smarter, the converse is not true: being smarter does not mean you’ll have more sex.
One myth about sex—or perhaps it’s just a joke?—is that “testosterone poisoning” makes young men stupid. Actually, a 2007 study in the journal Neuropsychologia measured the level of testosterone in the saliva of prepubertal boys, including some who were intellectually gifted, with an IQ above 130, some who were average, and some who were mentally challenged, with an IQ less than 70. They concluded that “boys of average intelligence had significantly higher testosterone levels than both mentally challenged and intellectually gifted boys, with the latter two groups showing no significant difference between each other.”
But if having sex can make people smarter, the converse is not true: being smarter does not mean you’ll have more sex. Smarter teens, in fact, tend to delay their initiation of coital activities. A 2012 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that high working memory decreases the likelihood of early adolescent sexual debut. Some researchers have attributed the delay to greater overall “competence” among smarter teens. But a 2010 study found that adolescents at both the upper and lower ends of the intelligence distribution were less likely to have sex. Most recently, a study of 536 same-sex twin pairs concluded that intelligence may be a red herring: the association is really between school achievement, not IQ per se, and age at first sexual experience.
In old age, too, cognitive abilities affect one’s chances of getting lucky. A study published just last month found that older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), often a forerunner of Alzheimer’s disease, were only about half as likely to have engaged recently in sexual activity as were their cognitively healthy peers. Of those with MCI, just 32.5 percent had recently engaged in sex, compared to 62.3 percent of those without MCI.
Perhaps, however, the dream of getting smarter through sex is just an alluring fantasy. Tracey J. Shors, a psychologist at the Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University, has reported that while many activities can increase the rate at which new brain cells are born, only effortful, successful learning increases their survival. As she said at a meeting on “Cognitive Enhancers” at the Society for Neuroscience in 2012: “You can make new cells with exercise, Prozac and sex. If you do mental training, you’ll keep alive more cells that you produced. And if you do both, now you have the best of both worlds—you’re making more cells and keeping more alive.”
In the wake of tragedies large and small, they put up like mushrooms after a rain. With tales of woe and heartbreaking images of children or helpless animals, they beg for assistance. They are the tragi-charities. One hit wonders seeking to cash in on the tragedy of the day from floods and fires to missing children and more.
The pop-up charity business is usually local, occasionally regional and rarely national. Mostly they are the products of individual scammers who smell an opportunity to cash in using the name of a victim who may or may not even be real. They count on local press coverage and a quick website. These ‘charities’ usually rake in a few thousand dollars and disappear.
Related Article: Five Simple Ways to Protect Against Identity Theft Online
Then there are the professional long term operations. They utilize direct mail or telemarketers to solicit millions of dollars in donations from unsuspecting individuals and businesses. Are you concerned you’ve already been scammed or just want to make sure you won’t be in the future? Here are some of the worst offenders:
Kids Wish Network
Cancer Fund of America
Children’s Wish Foundation International
American Breast Cancer Foundation
Firefighters Charitable Foundation
Breast Cancer Relief Foundation
International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO
National Veterans Service Fund
American Association of State Troopers
Children’s Cancer Fund of America
Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation
Youth Development Fund
Committee For Missing Children
Association for Firefighters and Paramedics
Project Cure (Bradenton, FL)
National Caregiving Foundation
Operation Lookout National Center for Missing Youth
United States Deputy Sheriffs’ Association
Vietnow National Headquarters
Police Protective Fund
National Cancer Coalition
Woman to Woman Breast Cancer Foundation
American Foundation For Disabled Children
The Veterans Fund
Heart Support of America
Veterans Assistance Foundation
Children’s Charity Fund
Wishing Well Foundation USA
Defeat Diabetes Foundation
Disabled Police Officers of America Inc.
National Police Defense Foundation
American Association of the Deaf & Blind
Reserve Police Officers Association
Optimal Medical Foundation
Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation
Disabled Police Officers Counseling Center
Children’s Leukemia Research Association
United Breast Cancer Foundation
Shiloh International Ministries
Circle of Friends For American Veterans
Find the Children
Survivors and Victims Empowered
Firefighters Assistance Fund
Caring for Our Children Foundation
National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition
American Foundation for Children With AIDS
Our American Veterans
Roger Wyburn- Mason & Jack M Blount Foundation for Eradication of Rheumatoid Disease
Firefighters Burn Fund
Hope Cancer Fund
This list was put together by the Tampa Bay Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting based on federal tax filings for the last 10 years. Charities are broken up into five main categories: children, cancer, police/law enforcement, veterans, fire and other. These fifty charities account for more than $1.35 Billion in donations. Of that, $970 million went not to victims, but to the people who collected the money.
Related Article: 5 Ways You Can Donate to Charity Without Spending a Dime
The percentages spent by these “charities” on direct aid to victims range from 0% to a high of only 11.10%. Most of the organizations spent between 0.10% and 8.6% of what they collected in direct cash aid. This is a far cry from what well meaning contributors intended for their contributions.
It’s important to remember that these numbers are just for the 50 worst offenders. Charity watchdog organizations say no more than 35 percent of donations should go to fundraising costs. Only two of the fifty listed met this criteria. However, they still spent only 0% and 1.10% on direct cash aid.
The worst of the worst paid more than 90% of what they collected to solicitors. Thirty-three of the fifty paid between 70% and 89% to solicitors. Overhead costs consumed large chunks of what was remaining. Only the very small amount left, may get to the people who actually need it!
Do the Hustle
Con artists refer to what they do as a hustle. A hustle is like the 70′s disco dance. It’s made up of series of regular steps timed to the beat of the music that can be improvised as needed. Charity hustles work the same way. They improvise and evolve to stay one step ahead of unsuspecting donors.
Related Article: How I’m Donating This Year… and It Won’t Cost Me a Cent
One very common hustle is the name game. For example, a very well known and respected group is the Make a Wish Foundation. This organization spends the vast majority of it’s donations on children. Kids Wish Network, however, spends only 3 cents of every dollar collected on kids. But their website and solicitations are designed to look and sound like Make a Wish. In fact, they count on the confusion to gather contributions.
The IRS is Not the Answer
When a solicitor for one of these groups calls a prospective donor the pitch will include the truthful statement that they are a nonprofit organization. Nonprofit however does not mean they are a charity. It only means they do not seek to make a profit on their activities. A profit according to Investopedia.com is revenue that exceeds expenses. The IRS has pretty broad rules for being a nonprofit organization. A charity is only one type of nonprofit.
Trade groups like those that represent the fast food or soft drink producers operate as nonprofits. Political organizations including both the Democratic and Republican parties are nonprofits. Lots of different special interest groups are nonprofits, including some private businesses that pay their executives quite well.
The Hustle Part II – The Tell
The tell is a poker term. It means an opposing player does something to indicate he or she is bluffing. There are all sorts of questions that you could go through to determine if the solicitor on the other end of the phone is from an honest to goodness charity or not. They all require time and patience to learn and implement. The most sure-fire solution is to ask for the name of the organization and a means to contact them so you can make your donation at another time.
When you do this, depending on the experience of the solicitor, you will either hear a lot of fast talking or angry response or you will be provided the information. Legitimate charities with nothing to hide will tell you how you can make your contribution later and hustlers will get annoyed.
Related Article: 5 Tips for Handling a Financial Windfall
Check Them Out
Before you make a contribution to any organization it is wise to know who they are and what they do. No legitimate fundraising effort is so urgent that if you do not make your contribution right at that moment someone will suffer. A day or two or even a week is not going to make a difference. So take the time to research.
There are a number of websites where you can check the status of a nonprofit. It only takes minutes but allows you to feel better about your donation. GuideStar.org requires that you sign up for a free account in order to receive very detailed reports on organizations. CharityNavigator.org provides a limited amount of information without a free membership. More detailed information is available to members. The Better Business Bureau has been around for decades. They provide free information that is easily digestible at a glance.
The bottom line for charitable giving is to trust your instinct. If a solicitation sounds too smooth or vague, be suspicious. Think of charitable giving in the same terms as international diplomacy, Trust but Verify.
About Frank Addessi
Born and raised in the center of the known universe, Brooklyn NY, and currently hiding out in the bucolic hills of northeast Pennsylvania writing about personal finance. It’s not easy living the American Dream but someone has to do it!