The amygdala and world affairs

I hope I’m not underestimating you if I suggest that many of you may not know what the amygdala is. In fact, it is part of the brain, and its size may determine all sorts of things and may influence various mental conditions such as autism.

Recent research has also discovered that larger amygdalas may determine the person’s political views: or more precisely, may cause them to be more conservative. If that is true, then being a conservative is not the result of careful thought or choice, but rather of the physical composition of the brain.

That kind of adds a twist to political analysis.

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6 Comments on “The amygdala and world affairs”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    Careful! The correlation doesn’t imply causation so it could be the case that being conservative has an effect on the size of your amygdala & not the other way round. This isn’t so far fetched, there is a famous study (also from UCL) which shows the hippocampus (involved in spatial reasoning) is slightly bigger in London taxi drivers and it depends on how long they have been driving.
    Attributing behaviour from differences in brain anatomy is somewhat controversial, “the new phrenology” its dismissed as in some quarters (also “voodoo fMRI”).
    For another recent story about the amygdala (you have 2) which links size to gregariousness see:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/dec/26/social-life-brain-amygdala

  2. Donal Crilly Says:

    Psychologists have known for some time that political orientation is not wholly the result of deliberation (or, for that matter, social forces). In particular, they have identified the roles that affect and motives play in shaping political orientation. For example, people who have an inherent need for certainty in their lives are prone to be politically conservative because conservatism typically provides more clear-cut answers and greater stability than liberalism.

    What’s more interesting is that, though these variables are in part dispositional, they can also be manipulated. In experimental conditions, treatments to alter emotions, moods, and motives can result in changes to voting preferences. Of course, this isn’t entirely surprising. If voting preferences were formed only on the basis of careful analysis, why would politicians bother to kiss babies?

  3. Trofim Says:

    Nothing new. It would be very surprising if political views weren’t in some way determined physiologically. After all, numerous other personality traits are clearly passed down from generation to generation. What is certain, is that the overwhelming majority of human beings, whatever their class, nationality or race require a modicum of familiarity, regularity, even predictability in their lives, in order to feel psychically comfortable – something usally regarded as reprehensible by lefties.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080206091437.htm

    http://hurryupharry.org/2010/10/29/what-determines-our-political-views/

    Incidentally, let’s try rephrasing the main paragraph:

    “Recent research has also discovered that smaller amygdalas may determine the person’s political views: or more precisely, may cause them to be more left-inclined. If that is true, then being a lefty is not the result of careful thought or choice, but rather of the physical composition of the brain”.

    (How about adding “left-wing views” to the tags of this article.

  4. cormac Says:

    I’ve always thought that people who are staunchly conservative and proud of it have something wrong with their brains! It also explains why you cannot reason with Tea Party politicans..

    • Trofim Says:

      cormac: A nice illustration of my point – to the lefty, he is the norm, the benchmark – all who think otherwise are aberrations, deviants of some kind. But is the lefty’s sense of his own nobility, the overwheening self-righteousness – so common in lefties – ably illustrated in your comment – genetic too?

      • kevin denny Says:

        I think its entirely symmetric: you cannot reason with ideologues on either side.
        I think some genetic predictors of political dispositions were discovered a few years back.


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