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Your brain already knows who you are going to vote for

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.

By Sifat Alag

Section Editor for Politics

It is often believed that political orientation is a result of social interaction. Even though this is not incorrect, one fails to realise the role the physical structure of the brain plays in determining one's political orientation.

You may have often heard politicians mention “ in my heart of hearts..” or “Deep down in my heart I believe..” these commonly used statements show signs of emotions even at the highest level in politics. In simple words, emotions are the chemical reactions that take place in our head. Our brain controls all our decisions from the day we are born. The physical structure of the brain can be a predictor of the political ideology an individual is likely to lean towards.[1] There is a 71.6% accuracy to be able to predict ones political orientation just by an MRI of their brain.[2]

Many studies over the past ten years have shown the difference in the physical aspects of the brain. It is now believed that conservatives have a larger right amygdala, whereas liberalism is related to the size of the grey matter of the anterior cingulate cortex[3] (ACC)[4]. The human brain consists of two Amygdala’s one in each hemisphere. The Amygdala in the right hemisphere has a separate memory and encodes information differently to the Amygdala present in the left side of the brain. It is the part of the brain that monitors both positive and negative excitement. The Amygdala is responsible for the flight or fight response. The right side plays a role in expressing fear as well as perceiving fear-inducing stimuli. The conservative brain has a more robust disgust response as compared to the liberal brain[5], which makes the brain presume the worst and react quickly to reduce the threat in any way possible.[6] Whereas the ACC is the frontal part of the cingulate cortex and it is responsible for a large amount of decision making, emotions, ethics, morals and impulse control (including performance monitoring and error detection).[7] Thus, making the decision making in liberal brains more likely to be influenced by empathy.[8]

These physical aspects of the brain have formed the personality of individuals, which have further helped in developing their political orientation. A brain with a lager right amygdala is associated with a conservative because they often tend to appreciate authoritarian structures with clear chains of command. They have a fondness for clear hierarchies and clear structures. Whereas, the brains with a more active anterior cingulate cortex are associated with acumen for new experiences and innate sense of empathy, leading them to admire an egalitarian system.

These physical differences in the structure of the brain also seep deep into the personality of the person. A person with a more active right amygdala is more likely to be more conscientious, loyal honest and have more self-discipline. The fight or flight function of the Amygdala also makes the individual prefer a sense of comfort in the past. They prefer certainty and seem to have an intolerance for ambiguity. Their decisions can also be influenced dramatically by religious beliefs.

On the other hand, a person with a more active ACC is likely to be more open to new experiences and liking change. They are believed to have a sense of cognitive hunger as they tend to show a higher interest in new ideas. They often base decisions on further information and scientific knowledge.[9]

Due to the plastic nature of the brain, it continues to grow and evolve throughout our life.[10] The Amygdala and ACC thus continue to develop with time and based on how much they are used. Here, the amount of use relates to how much blood flows into these parts of the brain. The initial structure of the brain is dependant on genetics. A child’s brain structure is thus highly dependent on its parents. The thoughts and political ideologies the parents' harbour have a 40% chance of being transferred to the child. The brain then develops further based on the exposure the child gets and the way she/he interacts with the environment. This interaction with the environment and the response of the brain to the situations provide a basic understanding of what happens to those who happen to change their political stance.

The political orientation of an individual also depends on the current political environment that the individual is exposed to. In a case where a person is exposed to consistent threats or fear and constant uncertainty, they are likely to be in a state of fight or flight more often, as a result strengthening their right Amygdala. These effects would result in the individual beginning to tilt towards the conservative side as a way to seek certainty. This study can be better understood by looking at the political scenario in the United States of America post 9/11. There was a sense of hostility and fear that crept into almost every individuals’ heart. The public pitted against each other, resulting in insecurity and an innate sense of threat that came to prevail. This uncertainty and chaos lead to more people tilting towards the Republicans. The 2004 elections saw an increase in turnout from the previous election as well as an increase in the percentage of republican supporters as compared to 2000. On the other hand, when an economy is booming, there is a chance for people to tilt towards the liberal side. As one may have noticed, a few of the essentials for an economy to grow are the creation of new connections between countries. As well as an increase in the number of businesses and ideas that are generated. An interesting example of this can be seen even in the Edwardian era (1900-1910) of the UK. During the industrial revolution at a time when there were no severe depressions, and the prosperity was widespread, the Labour Party was elected to power for the first time in the UK in 1906.[11]

There is an exciting link between our environment, our biology and the political orientation that we hold. With further scientific research, it would be interesting to see how elections take place in the future and how the results further affect our brains and personalities.


Sources [1] Kuszewski, A., 2011. Your Brain On Politics: The Cognitive Neuroscience Of Liberals And Conservatives. [online] Discover Magazine. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 November 2020]. [2] Darren Schreiber, 'Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans' ( February 13, 2013) <> accessed 25 November 2020 [3] Further referred to as ACC [4] Kanai R, Feilden T, Firth C, Rees G. Political orientations are correlated with brain structure in young adults. (Current Biology. 2011) <> accessed 26 November 2020 [5] Inbar Yoel, 'Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals' (Psychology Press Taylor and Francis Group, 7th May 2008) <> accessed 26 November 2020 [6] TL Brink, Psychology: A Student Friendly Approach "The Nervous System” ( 2008) 61 [7] Carlson, R Neil , Physiology of Behavior (Pearson 2012) 364 [8] Jost and JT Glasser, 'Political conservatism as motivated social cognition' [2003] 129(3) Psychological Bulletin <> accessed 26 November 2020 [9] Rabin J.S. Blue Brain-Red Brain: The Biopsychology of Political Beliefs and Behavior. In: Sinnott J.D., Rabin J.S. (eds) The Psychology of Political Behavior in a Time of Change. Identity in a Changing World. Springer, Cham. (2020) <> accessed 20 November 2020 [10] Fuchs, Eberhard; Flügge, Gabriele. "Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research" (2014) [11] Arthur J Taylor, "The Economy," in Simon Nowell-Smith, ed., Edwardian England: 1901-1914 (1964) 105-138

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