Liberal? Conservative? Blame Your Brain, Research Says

As America appears to become ever more polarized, liberal and conservative people alike tend to caucus and “other” their ideological opponents — and while there is an argument to be made that we’re all Uncle Sam’s children, science also seems to have a growing body of evidence to prove that our fundamental differences might be… like, super fundamental.

Prior studies linking conservative voters with lower IQs have been viral favorites, and liberals are fond of pointing to science to solidify their points during political debates.

But early research suggesting that conservative voters and liberal voters may have actual neurological differences that outstrip their environment, education, upbringing, and intellect (initially a controversial claim) is gaining credence as a somewhat credible and somewhat terrifying aspect of brain science.

teabonics amensty

Or, to put it a little more simplistically… we might not ever be able to come together, after all. Perhaps compromise is a bridge too far, if research bears out about what makes liberal liberal and conservatives conservative.

An article today on Mother Jones points to what the site dubs a “conservative negativity bias,” or that thing of where war and austerity are hallmarks of a movement that still hasn’t fully gotten over the President’s oft-released birth certificate.

Citing open peer discussion in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a medical journal, MoJo describes the teeming consensus over what causes us to drift to the right or left side of the aisle:

“A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics.”

teabonics are country

Eep. Further referencing one specific aspect of the research being discussed, the site points to John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska’s work, explaining:

“One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of ‘a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it,’ as one of their papers put it)… In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets—centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns—would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.”


In the initial research on conservative and liberal neurological differences, more than ten years ago, researchers described a “virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety.”

Do you think liberals are fundamentally different from conservatives? Could this gap, if it exists, ever be bridged to form a functional American government?