May 7, 2017

Liberal and conservative brains handle emotions differently

Mary Altaffer, Chuck Burton / AP

The structure of our brains may explain why liberals and conservatives react to emotional political appeals — like Jimmy Kimmel's viral health care push — in different ways. Psychiatrist Gail Saltz found that if you look at the size of brain structures, you can predict someone's ideology at at a "frequency of 71.6 percent."

Liberals tend to have a larger and more active anterior cingulate gyrus.

What that means: This part of the brain is responsible for conflict detection, as well as taking in new information and understanding its impact while making decisions. This could make liberals more likely to approach issues with heightened sensitivity.

Conservatives often have a larger and more active amygdala.

What that means: This is responsible for fear processing information and activating the fight-or-flight response. It is expected that someone with this feature will be influenced by fear when making decisions. Psychologists have also found that conservatives prefer stability and structure.

The differences can be exemplified in the contrasting themes from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's rhetoric on the campaign trail.

On the Orlando nightclub shooter:

Clinton: "A madman filled with hate, with guns in his hands, and just a horrible sense of vengeance and vindictiveness in his heart, apparently consumed by rage against LGBT Americans, and by extension, the openness and diversity that defines our American way of life...."

Trump: "A radical Islamic terrorist targeted the nightclub, not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens, because of their sexual orientation."

Responses to a question on job creation at the first general election debate:

Clinton: "The central question in this election is really what kind of country we want to be and what kind of future we'll build together. Today is my granddaughter's second birthday, so I think about this a lot..."

Trump: "Our jobs are fleeing the country. They're going to Mexico. They're going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They're devaluing their currency, and there's nobody in our government to fight them..."

Opening remarks after acknowledging the crowds at their first campaign speeches:

Clinton: "You know, President Roosevelt's Four Freedoms are a testament to our nation's unmatched aspirations and a reminder of our unfinished work at home and abroad."

Trump: "Our country is in serious trouble. We don't have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don't have them."

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