Dec 30, 2010

No doubt you read about the study at University College London suggesting that conservative brains are structured differently than the brains of other people.

According to the initial news report, people with conservative tendencies have a larger amygdala and a smaller anterior cingulate than other people. The amygdala -- typically thought of as the "primitive brain" -- is responsible for reflexive impulses, like fear. The anterior cingulate is thought to be responsible for courage and optimism.

According to the report, since only adults were included in the survey, researchers were unable to determine if cerebral physiology drives politics or if political beliefs change the brain.

A previous University of California study suggests the former is possible, isolating a so-called "liberal gene" -- the neurotransmitter DRD4 -- responsible for an increased receptiveness to novel ideas.

Meanwhile, conservatives point to both studies as proof of their biological superiority. In the conservative blogosphere and twitterverse, DRD4 was cited as the underlying cause of the "mental illness" known as liberalism; and some conservative tweeters have even tried to claim that the enlarged amygdala just means that conservatives "have bigger brains." Of course, the first claim begs the question, and the second ignores the shrunken anterior cingulate.

I think it makes perfect sense. Hate radio is thick with fear and paranoia. It's all about fight or flight. I can see a time when politicians wouldn't be allowed to take office until their brains had been measured to insure their politics were aligned with their brains. That way you eliminate frauds.

I could see having to wear baseball caps, and skull caps for that matter, with your brain ID on the bill. I could see whole a new possibility for restaurants, immigration and postal offices, hospitals, psychiatrists, and zoos. And what about a new olympics? Or new Harvards, one for each kind of brain.

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