Recent studies detailed in the YouTube video linked below show that liberals have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus. That is a part of the brain that is responsible for taking in new information and using that new information on decision making or choices.
Conservatives tended to have a larger right amygdala. The amygdala is a deeper brain structure that processes more emotional information, specifically fear based information. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for the flight or fight response.
While this is not universal, and there are lots of people in the middle, if you just go by structural size difference in these two areas, you can determine who is liberal and who is conservative 71.6% of the time.
Now they don’t know if people are born with these different sizes and that influences future affiliation, or if these parts of the brain grew to larger sizes in youth because these people were raised with liberal or conservative parents, and shaped the brain because it is elastic. They were taught to believe a certain way. In fact studies show one can predict with a certainty of 69.5% what you will be from what your parents are.
These studies show that conservatives tend to rate higher in areas of stability, loyalty, not liking change, being religiously involved in terms of decision making. These same studies show liberals have a stronger rating for liking change, base decision making on new information, and science based information.
How does this affect somebody in practical terms? If you have the brain structure of a conservative, when you are hearing something new, if that new information makes you nervous and afraid, then you are going to resort to the old standby “I don’t want to listen or believe this new information.” If you have the brain structure of a liberal, you can hear the same information, and say “Oh, that’s novel, therefore that is interesting to me, and I want to learn more.”
There are obviously lots of applications to religion and the Mormon Church. Having a large right amygdala would seem like the prerequisite to being called to be an apostle: stability, loyalty, not liking change, being religiously involved in terms of decision making. Having that large anterior cingulate gyrus would make you an ideal nuanced Mormon, and a frequent reader of this blog: stronger rating for liking change, base decision making on new information, and science based information.
While these traits seem to fit quite well with people we know in the Church, how does it work with non-members that the missionaries are trying to convert? It would seem that missionaries would need to look for just the opposite of what would make a good apostle. If you knocked on the door of a Baptist, and they had a large right amygdala, they are going to be loyal to their own church, and not keen on making a change. Yet a Presbyterian with large gyrus is going to be open to listening to the missionaries, might be looking for a change, and will base their decision to join based on the new information. The Baptist above won’t even listen to the new information because it makes them feel uncomfortable, while the Presbyterian will crave learning something new.
But then who of the new converts makes the best long term member? If the Baptist above were to overcome their fears (be touched by the spirit), and both were to be baptized, which one is more likely to be active in five years? The former Baptist that is loyal to his new church and does not like change, or the former Presbyterian who is still craving to learn something new, and is reading the CES letter, the church essays, finds out about the temple ban of blacks before 1978, and says “I’m going to think about whether I might change my mind based on this new information”.
What about you, do you have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus or larger right amygdala?
Seems to me that a prophet, seer and revelator should be open to new information.
Interesting video and post.
I don’t know, I still think a lot of it just comes down to doing and being the best we can with the information we’ve processed.
I was raised by mostly conservative parents who are mostly devout LDS. I chose to be Independent at eighteen. By about twenty-five I considered myself Conservative. At about thirty I started calling myself a libertarian-leaning conservative (libertarians lose me on two or three defining key points) and have moved to the right of my parents. I feel like my move to the right came about as much or more by studying and being around liberals and liberalism as it did by studying conservatism, but maybe I was just directed (or misdirected) to some of the wrong people and material.
Interestingly, of my two siblings, one is largely apolitical and almost entirely turned off by all politics. The other is a liberal-leaning moderate. Not sure how large of a factor this is, but I’m the only one who did not attend BYU. We all remain active in the Church.
A friend of mine was raised moderate but became quite conservative in adulthood. Her sister became quite liberal, and they’d bicker all the time over it. One day my friend just challenged her to really read and think about what they were talking about. She really took her up on the suggestion by essentially locking herself in her apartment for two weeks and studying it out. She’s now conservative.
It would be highly tempting to state that if liberals really are as open to change as claimed here, then exposure to certain facts will ultimately culminate in a conversion to conservatism, but I’m sure there are probably plenty of cases of conservatives becoming liberals after similar two week experiments.
I thought the religious examples were interesting. My dad served in England. He felt Catholics made far better converts than the state Church or other Protestants because they seemed to have a greater intellectual and spiritual understanding of the issue of authority. I suppose the appeal to authority would be the amygdala speaking, while the larger anterior cingulate gyrus might be the ability to recognize it’s not where you thought it was, but I don’t know. Where I served, it was largely the atheists and agnostics who would rarely give us the time of day, while the more religious would at the very least hear what we had to say. I thought that was interesting given how often we were labeled closed-minded.
Most of us are moderates including the “conservative” with a gay brother or the “liberal” whose house was ransacked by drug addicts. We have a tendency to carve out our own idiosyncratic territories, and these belie facile description.
Which of the two areas of the brain evolved first, the amigdala or the gyrus? Given that the amigdala has the flight or fight function, I’d guess it is more deeply ingrained than deliberate decision making functions. If people tend to default to the more basic functions that might predict that conservatives will ultimately carry the day. Idk…
My liberal brother married a conservative and over the years became more conservative, and I know many people who moved to more conservative parts of the country and gradually became conservative. And I know many examples of people going from conservative to liberal depending on those they associate with. My husband was always conservative while he worked with military personnel, then retired and took a huge swing toward liberal. I was raised liberal on social issues and conservative on financial, worked as a social worker, so was around “bleeding heart liberal” and have remained pretty much the same.
So, I think the brain is pretty plastic, and can swing either way depending on the feedback it gets from the social environment. If you are in a liberal state or occupation, your thinking will gravitate to the thinking of those around you. A higher education will also force you to accept new thinking, so that will swing you toward liberal. So, it isn’t that higher education is indoctrinating people to be liberal, it is the higher education forces brain changes that swing you liberal.
studies show that women’s brains are more plastic than men’s and funny, but women tend to be more liberal. More plasticity helps in things like recovery after a stroke and it may make it so women are more likely to switch from conservative to liberal or the other way around.
As far as religion goes, it might be that those who are open to change being the ones who join, but the vast majority of the church being conservative explains the horrible retention rate for new converts. Those willing to join are those who don’t fit in. Ouch.
I’ve wondered if I hadn’t been born into the church would I have been receptive to the missionaries?
Hard to know. I think definitely I would’ve run the other way if pressured to get baptized after just a few discussions. I also wonder how I would’ve responded to the typical Sacrament meeting—(especially the first Sunday of the month fast meetings).
My parents were Republican, but I can’t remember them discussing politics much when I was growing up. I’m not entirely sure the political affiliations of my siblings. One for sure is staunch conservative. I’m guessing the other two are center left like me.
(Despite both my parents being college graduates, I was the only one that graduated from college. I was also the only one who has lived outside of Utah).
One thing that is really important is what sources one relies on. (and where do these sources get their information?) At times I would listen to conservative talk shows on the radio because I.wanted to learn. I came away wondering how people could listen to these programs.
I look for information that is fact based , like what do peer reviewed studies show about this or that theory?
Isn’t it interesting? We praise individuals who break with their families, friends, and tradition to join the COJCOLDS. In fact, some of us looked for these people full-time for two years in a foreign country. Yet, when members of the COJCOLDS leave our faith and tradition they are seen as traitors or foolish or under Satan’s power.
Great example: If you’re an LDS member and currently attending BYU, you better not have a faith crisis (or at least you better keep it secret) or you could be out. That’s literally true. And yet non-members at BYU are always seen as key targets of opportunity for LDS conversion.
“One thing that is really important is what sources one relies on. (and where do these sources get their information?)”
^^^ THIS ^^^
“At times I would listen to conservative talk shows on the radio because I.wanted to learn. I came away wondering how people could listen to these programs.”
^^^ Also THIS ^^^
(Thank you, Lois! They each deserve their own emphasis.)
My parents often cancelled each other’s votes.
I firmly believed in the church, but growing up could never figure out how or why people had the same level of devotion to political parties.
It was from regularly following a local newspaper, and subscribing to a weekly for national news that I developed a foundation for making informed decisions. I highly recommend mainstream media. Even with its flaws, it’s so much more factual and well rounded than those based on alternative facts.
Over simplified, emotionally persuasive media is quite insulting – give real information, and allow people to develop their own opinions.
Anna said “As far as religion goes, it might be that those who are open to change being the ones who join, but the vast majority of the church being conservative explains the horrible retention rate for new converts. Those willing to join are those who don’t fit in. Ouch.”
Anna, you said it much better that I I did in my OP, but yes, I believe the reason for poor retention rates is the type of person open to new ideas, doesn’t close his/her brain after they get baptized. They keep learning, and learn themselves right out of the church
It would be interesting to learn more about my brain structure because, as an autistic person, I resonate with elements of both–the aversion to change (change merely for the sake of change, anyway) and receptiveness to/interest in new information.
As to your hypothetical scenario, I’m not sure there’s a clear cut answer. From what I can tell, there are a decent amount of “ideal nuanced Mormons/frequent blog readers” who don’t seem to let new information about the church affect their decisions in regards to it.
The OP doesn’t give a very comprehensive overview of the functions of the brain structures cited in the video, and though I didn’t watch it, I suspect the video focuses on the “conclusions” of the study, without citing the capricious brain behaviors that complicate predictable results. There’s a great deal more to the functions and behaviors of the amygdala and ACG, some of which I know of, and some of which is yet to be understood, so the findings seem to be inconclusive to me, and of dubious support as applied to the premise in the OP.
It’s much more complicated, I think, and nearly impossible to pinpoint the influences that govern the brains (and souls) of people, so I thought this post isn’t for me to comment. And yet the comments are thoughtful and provoke me to think further.
I like the discussion of examining the information sources one uses to form beliefs, and I agree that mainstream media is usually relatively reliable. Sort of. I appreciate the work of media bias charts, there are a few active ones. I like Ad Fontes MBC ( August 2022 edition linked below- I hope) because they don’t pretend that there’s such a thing as an unbiased source of information, and they are both transparent and professional.
I don’t dispute the premise of the OP, but just don’t feel any enthusiasm to join in, point out flaws, or correct anything. It’s messy, the worlds we live in, and our brains’ attempts to navigate it. I liked a quote on another thread (of Dallin Oaks of all people. Go figure.) that said a society needs compromises and not absolutes. I guess that makes me Team Nuance.
I read this fascinating book called Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, which gives a breakdown of all the research done on the correlations between political affiliation and actual human biology. It definitely changed my view (somewhat) of why people are conservative or liberal. I had previously that that political affiliation was more the product of one’s environment rather than one’s biology. But the studies done on the topic show fascinating results.
I certainly fit the prescribed definition of liberal according to the book (and according to the definition on the OP). But the problem is that the definitions of conservative and liberal are rather diverse. In a larger sense, a conservative is someone who seeks to conserve some traditional set of norms (whatever these norms may be) and finds motivation to preserve those norms out of highly sensitive fear that there are outside forces trying to undermine them. On the other hand a liberal in the larger sense is someone who is more prone to question predominant norms and traditions of a given culture and consider wisdom of other outside cultures (perceived as threats by the conservatives of a given culture).
Now there exists what we can comfortably call “liberal” and “conservative” cultures in the US. And within these cultures there are those who are more defensive as to their traditions and those who are more questioning and exploratory. In that regard, it makes sense to say that there are liberal conservatives in the US as well as conservative liberals. The latter might be someone born in rural white Alabama who is a bit more questioning of their surrounding culture so as to reject many of its values, but may not go far enough to actually become a cultural liberal or vote Democrat. By contrast, you could have someone born in downtown San Francisco who is extremely defensive of their surrounding liberal culture and sees in it a set of traditions and values that must be defended from multiple perceived outside threats, whom you might call a conservative liberal.
I grew up in deeply conservative Provo, and I long felt like a liberal conservative. I routinely questioned many norms and traditions, but would still favor Republicans and look down at cultural liberalism. Eventually, however, I questioned my way out of the church and out of the Republican Party.
Having had more time to ponder the OP, video, and comments, where might one categorize conspiracy theorists?
Honestly, they can be found among both liberals and conservatives, but I’d concede they’re probably slightly more prevalent among conservatives. My experience is that you generally find two types of conspiracy theorists among conservatives. One group essentially starts out seeking to confirm what they already believe, which may line up with the amygdala camp, but another groups essentially asks whether or not they’re willing to leave the “all is well” lifestyle of relative ignorance they’re currently living if they venture into areas that make the truth look darker than they originally thought and hoped. It’s the former group that generally garners the most negative media attention, but the latter group is pretty sizable as well. Would the latter fall more into the ACG category if they’re willing to challenge what they think they know?
I would add that education levels do not appear to be the greatest determinant in conspiracy theorizing, and in some cases might even make it worse. If you’ve smartly developed enough tools to see all sorts of stars lurking in a dark corner of the sky, you’ll be able to perceive any number of constellations.
All in all, even with the science, I find the brain categorization an oversimplification of both liberals and conservatives.
“where might one categorize conspiracy theorists?”
Actually a very interesting question. A conspiracy theory is nothing more than an extraordinary claim based on very little evidence and on bad reasoning. It seems to be emotion-based, fear-based thinking often for the purposes of protecting a tradition and attacking perceived threats to that tradition. So I would rank it conservative, with a lower-case c. Indeed, we find traditionalist defenders in liberal culture (conservative liberals) engaging in conspiracy theories. It is paranoid questioning that avoids trying to draw tentative conclusions, as opposed to investigative questioning that seeks to draw tentative conclusions, that demonstrates almost immediate skepticism towards mainstream thinking and paradoxically extreme gullibility and blind acceptance to non-mainstream thinking that confirms preconceived biases.
“education levels do not appear to be the greatest determinant in conspiracy theorizing”
A 2016 study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology finds that “education predicts decreased belief in conspiracy theories.”