Science and Tech


Are You A Democrat Or A Republican? A Look At Your Brain Might Tell Us

Sure, we're politically divided. But our brains may be partly to blame for that.
Posted at 9:41 PM, Apr 12, 2018

It turns out size does matter. The bigger the brain's amygdala, the more conservative you're likely to be. 

On the flip side, if your anterior cingulate cortex is a whopper, you're likely to lean far to the left. Research, including an often-cited study in 2011, has made that link between brain structure and political orientation.

Think Carlton Banks and Will Smith from "Fresh Prince," they could hardly agree on most anything ever. Their brains were probably different we now know. Carlton's big amygdala vs. Will's big anterior cingulate cortex. There's buttoned-up conservatism on one hand, and then more strident liberalism on the other. 

When you look at the science, our brain is the great sieve through which reality is strained. The amygdala controls how we react to disgusting images, foul odors, differences that challenge the norm.

The bigger the amygdala, the more intense the reaction to perceived threats. It's a survival instinct and could prewire some people against progressivism. Researchers have found a few things: First, people with a large amygdala are less likely to join a protest challenging the norm.

Psychologists have found that conservatives are more anxious than liberals — that's a big amygdala doing its thing — which may be why they typically desire stability and structure. And if you remove the amygdala in rats, they show no fear. Not even with cats. 

Now, how about the person with a large anterior cingulate cortex? They're pretty much just the opposite, naturally more tolerant. More comfortable with differences that challenge the standard or what they're comfortable with. Less fear. Their brains don't mind the turbulence. 

But there's a chicken-and-egg question to all of this. Are some people born with a large amygdala and predestined to become conservatives, or does their amygdala get bigger as they become more conservative? 

Same question with the cortex. Probably both, says an NYU psych professor. He thinks "our inborn brain structure guides us to political preferences, but that our political environment also alters our brain structure."

So whether your amygdala looks like a pea or a pineapple, remember that everyone's is different and in many ways, we come by our politics naturally.