By Ethan Plotsker ’18

THURJ Staff

Modern medicine continues to become more versatile each day as researchers investigate the human body, design drugs to counter the diseases that plague it, and apply knowledge in novel ways that extend beyond traditional scientific fields.

Neuroscience is an example of a field that has recently been applied outside of biology. Although neuroscience has commonly been applied to cognition and decision-making, in recent years, researchers have turned to the structure of the brain to define why people maintain certain opinions and values. Specifically, scientists have examined certain areas of the brain to look for connections to liberal and conservative political affiliations (Mooney, 2011).

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is extremely important in making decisions and detecting incipient errors, is one of two key structures that determine how one thinks about politics. Researchers have hypothesized that when these structures are enlarged, they can contribute to conservative modes of thought (Mooney, 2011). This hypothesis supports the stereotype that conservatives tend to adhere to tradition, as a larger ACC may lead to a keener ability to predict possible downfalls, explaining why many right-wingers may shy away from large-scale change. Subconsciously, they may be considering the possibility of the change negatively impacting their environment.

The amygdala is the other structure that can often determine whether one leans to the right or left politically. Since this structure is vital to emotional processing, a large amygdala could help explain the stereotype that conservative individuals tend to be more easily influenced by emotion than their liberal counterparts (Mooney, 2011).

Still, it is important to remember that the connections between the ACC, amygdala, and these generalized political affiliations are loosely drawn; these are only correlations that scientists have observed and may not necessarily be causal. But they provide an interesting glimpse into how research can bridge the divide between seemingly unconnected fields such as neuroscience and politics. The increasingly interdisciplinary nature of the world commands this type of research, and as research continues to advance, so too will its implications for modern society and those who live within it.

Reference:

Mooney, C. (2011). “Your Brain on Politics: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Liberals and Conservatives.” Retrieved from http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/09/07/your-brain-on-politics-the-cognitive-neuroscience-of-liberals-and-conservatives/#.VQIsmWTF_3p

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