Politics on the brain

A series of studies have been published in various peer-reviewed scientific journals that suggest strong correlations exist between an individual’s personality, their brain structure and their political views.

The first widely-reported article, published online in April, found that the political orientations of young adults are correlated with mass concentrations in distinct brain structures. Ryota Kanai et al (of University College, London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) found that political liberalism and political conservativism could literally be measured via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques in two large studies.

“We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala,” the report said. “These results were replicated in an independent sample of additional participants.”

The right amygdala has been implicated in emotional behaviour processes and the anterior cingulate cortex has been implicated in higher reasoning processes.

“Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual’s political orientation,” lead author Ryota Kanai said in a statement. “Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure.”

According to the report, this confirmed previous data that indicated political orientation is correlated with self-regulation in conflict situations and recognition of others’ emotional states.

Related studies concerned the Five Factor Model (FFM). FFM was developed by Costa & McCrae, 1992 for linking personality traits to certain – particularly academic – behavioural patterns. The five factors are conscientiousness, openness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Colin DeYoung et al found in 2010 that FFM traits are strongly correlated with individual brain anatomy. Omura K et al previously found in 2005 that increased concentrations of greymatter in the amygdalae is linked to neuroticism and extraversion.

Alan S. Gerber et al from Yale University in the United States recently found in the relevant literature that FFM dispositional traits may be correlated with certain attitudes that inform political orientations, but the researchers’ report also identified the current limitations on such studies.

Last month, a study lead by Ryota Kanai found that the number of a person’s Facebook friends can be predicted by the mass of certain brain structures. The report echoed previously published studies that found that an individual’s number of real world friends parallels neuronal mass concentrations in brain structures.

Scientists Deborah Blum and Jonica Newby, and Professor Fred Mendelsohn of the Howard Florey Institute, debated in 2007 whether or not current magnetic resonance imagining technologies can accurately predict personality traits and behaviours on ABC News.

The emerging field has been dubbed biopolitics.


One thought on “Politics on the brain

  1. Very interesting.

    Now the question is ‘Would your rather have enhanced emotional behaviour processes or enhanced higher reasoning?’

    Without knowing which belongs to what type of political thinking I’d pick higher reasoning. Guess I’m a liberal.


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