Sunday, November 11, 2012

Is Red or Blue, Merely a State of The Mind?

In two studies done on the brain in 2011, one in California and one in London, researchers looking for the same thing wanted to know if political affiliation could be discerned with a brain scan, or a simple test.

Researchers in London tested subjects who either stated themselves as being liberal or conservative in their views. Those who considered themselves as conservatives showed under MRI that an area of the brain called the amygdala, responsible for primitive emotional responses like fear, were quite larger than average.  Under the same kind of MRI scan, those who considered themselves to be liberals, showed a larger area in the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, responsible for rational cognitive functions, such as decision-making, conflict-handling, empathy, courage, and optimism.

Researchers in California who wanted to test for the same kind of political affiliation tested subjects with a computer program. Subjects were asked to press a key on the keyboard of the computer whenever they saw an ‘M’ and refrain from pressing a key when they saw the letter ‘W’. Subjects were not told that the letter ‘M’ would appear four times more frequently than the letter ‘W’.  The results showed that liberals made fewer mistakes than conservatives indicating that liberals were better equipped at making decisions, and handling conflicts.

Although the tests confirm what I already suspected, that while brain chemistry is responsible for so many things, it comes as no surprise to me that ideological views are one of them. But it begs the question: Considering the increased size of the amygdala in the brains of conservatives tested, could this also point to a reason why most conservatives are religious in nature? Because fear is a chief component in indoctrination, the process by which people are subjugated into religion, this seems completely plausible, and provocative in nature. Telling people that they are religious, because their brain has a slightly larger amygdala than most, could at first sound positive to those people, for example the idea of a larger brain. However, upon closer inspection, and understanding where the amygdala is located, it actually doesn't sound better at all. The amygdala is located in a very primitive part of the brain called the R-complex, or reptilian brain, a part of the brain that has existed through millions of years of evolution. And understanding that this area is larger, and not smaller, as you might expect from evolution, it might tend to bring up some amount of resentment from the side of those who consider themselves as conservatives.

Another thing to consider in this area is the tendency for those on the conservative side to be more partial to racism, bigotry, hate, and amoral decision-making. When you consider that most racial, and sexual discrimination tends to be born out of fear, it makes sense that a brain with a larger amygdala might also be a brain that expressed racial or sexual discrimination, or the discrimination of homosexuality.

It is most often fear of homosexuality that causes those who discriminate against them to express their bigoted view of their sexual orientation. You can often hear it right from the mouth of the bigot who tells you that homosexuality will ruin traditional marriage, that homosexuals are all pedophiles, and homosexuals think dirty thoughts about the same-sex, often those who are not homosexual themselves. These views only extend the communal belief that help to create this fear culture, giving rise to bigotry and hate.

It should not, however be as simply limiting as hate toward those with same-sex orientation, no indeed, it affects those who hate women, or those of a different color as well.

In the modern America women are no longer subjected to the life of a stay-at-home caretaker, the good wife who takes care of the kids, and has dinner on the table every night when her husband comes home from work. Although this was a notion of a more archaic time in America, it is one that the conservative believes best fits the position of women in society. This view of women is supported by the treatment of women of that era, when spousal abuse went unpunished, and women could not divorce. Although it is simple to consider this to be just a societal norm of the time, evidence suggests that this was about the underlying need for male dominance and control of women, a view which hasn't changed much in spite of the modern feminist movement.

Although it is now easier for women to report spousal abuse, the control an abuser has on his victim often allows him to unconsciously get his victim to recant or deny the abuse she has suffered.

Many would have you believe that Christians do not do these types of amoral things, research shows differently. What seems absolute is that those men who fear the condemnation of God for their actions, will continue to abuse their victim, asking for absolution only later, after the abuse has taken place. The correlation between a larger amygdala and a smaller anterior cingulate cortex may suggest a reason why such abuse continues, resulting from a lack of empathy, poor decision-making and overall irrationality, and at the same time explains why the motivation of fear leads the abuser to seek absolution or forgiveness of their sins. It should also be considered that continued abuse, leads to reinforcement–type behavior, that allows a woman to forgive her abuser, thus absolving, and allowing the fear to subside, giving the abuser back their power again.

The more modern American woman is one that supports herself, maybe with or without kids, and holds a more independent belief. It is not that such a woman could not have a boyfriend or be married, only that she has the confidence that women of an earlier era lacked. And it is this independence that conservative men fear the most, because an independent woman is a woman that is less likely to be controlled. And controlling women, if not the most important value a conservative male holds, it is at the top of the list, even if it would never be opinionated in public. It should be apparent by the views of most conservative men concerned with abortion, a subject they have little knowledge or decision-making in, but one that all seem, willing to take a position on, that control is always in the mind of the conservative male.

The insidious nature of racism that finds itself pervasively interwoven into our culture could easily be attributed to fear as well, because it is fear, and not reason that leads to irrational conclusions about those of a minority. Although racists will surely claim they do not fear those of color, it is fear that leads to ignorance, which ultimately causes the racist to hold his belief. When fear is allowed to impact our decisions about race, it is then we build irrational paradigms that perniciously lead to hate.

Fear of the black man, led to him being enslaved, because it is through slavery, he could be controlled. It is fear that led the South to secede from the union, fear of empowering the blacks, fear of losing control, and fear that the South could not survive without its slave labor. It was fear that led the South to institute segregation laws during the post-reconstruction era, and fear that sparked a nation to turn on its citizens of color. And it is still fear even now, that enables the hatred of President Obama in the southern states. When white voters in the South were asked if the color of Barack Obama factored in their decision to vote for Romney, more than 60% of those asked, acknowledged it did. It should be of no surprise then that it wasn’t really the white vote that factored high in favored of President Obama for re-election, although he certainly held his own with liberal whites, but the fact he gained ground with African-American and Latino voters, and women of course, conservative or liberal minded.

The conservative woman, a rarity I’m sure, considering the view of the modern male Republican Party, while also part of this research study, has a brain that functions differently.

It should be of no surprise that men and women think differently, and MRI scans prove this to be true, at least in how their mind is structured, and how it relates to liberalism or conservatism. What researchers began to suspect is that the male minds of those who considered themselves to be of stronger, more warrior-like, held more conservative views, and those that considered themselves more intelligent, well rounded, held more liberal views. Of course, when women were tested, it was apparent that physical strength had little to do with the view of the conservative woman, because strength in women is atypical, and rarely comparable to even the average male.  So it is not strength of muscle and bone that women possess, but strength of mind. There was no indication that similar structure in the female brain produced the same results as a male brain, leaving many to wonder what ideologies do factor into a woman’s decision on whether to lean to the left or to the right. Some have postulated that these decisions have less to do with primitive impulses in women and more to do with the effect changes in policy might have on their lives and the lives of those they love most. This would suggest that even women identifying themselves as conservative, had a larger functioning anterior cingulate cortex, even if they also had an enlarged amygdala.

This might also suggest something positive about women that men seem to clearly lack, that women in spite of fear, make better decisions, and maintain an empathy that surely leads to love. So although fear leads men to irrationality, it leads women to love, and maybe that means there is still hope for America, because it will be in the mothers that teach their children how to think, not what to think, and more importantly, to give them a reason to love, instead of hate.

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