In 2018, it can be easy to fall into the divisiveness of the current political climate. This may mean cutting off friends of the opposite political affiliation or restricting new friends to those in the same political affiliation as you. Sometimes this can be tempting, especially when tensions are running high, like election seasons. However, this may not be good for your politics or your brain. Believe it or not, there is evidence that psychology and neuroscience can impact politics and that politics can impact psychology and neuroscience.

There have been studies that have proposed that when people are in highly politically partisan environments, then those partisan beliefs can become more emboldened. This can apply to college students and the organizations they tend to seek out. It can also apply to the political conferences that organizations love to throw and internships with political figures.  It can be refreshing to find a political group on campus or political internship and jump head first into it, because you are finally surrounded with people that think like you. Those political conventions and internships are great for networking and making friends. It is important to remember that making these connections and friendships are great. Just try to even out the friendships that you are making among the different political orientations.

In the age of social media, people typically have plenty of friends and family that have differing views, but they tend to unfriend or block them on social media for their differing views. This is completely fine to do if Uncle Jerry is completely insufferable and most of the stuff he posts does not make sense. It does become a problem when you start removing everyone with a different opinion. This leads to your social media becoming an echo chamber and your own little political bubble. When people become more enclosed in their political bubble, it can make the opinions and decisions of those on the side seem completely unreasonable. When people are thinking so drastically different, it can cause further divisiveness. This makes it less likely that common ground can be found.

An increase in hyper-partisan views isn’t the only thing that can happen from keeping your inner circle one-sided. It can also cause your brain structure to change over time. People typically do not think about this, simply because they do not know about it. It can seem almost unbelievable that politics has the ability to change our brains. You may be wondering how this can happen, when the explanation is actually fairly reasonable. A study found that Republicans tend to use their right amygdala more for focusing attention and fear conditioning, along with other processes.  Democrats tend to use their left posterior insula more when trying to reason between risky and safe decisions. When certain parts of the brain are being activated more than the other can change the sizes of the certain portions of the brain. This means that the more you are around the same political party and potentially becoming more partisan, then the more likely it is that you are activating those key parts of your brain. This could also end up furthering these hyper-partisan views.

This is not to say that people should stop joining partisan groups and having these friendships. What it does mean is that people need to work on expanding their circle and friends with differing ideologies, instead of shrinking it. It is fine to have a strong tie to a certain political affiliation and to want friends in the same sphere. It is also great to make sure that you are actively engaging with people outside of your political bubble. Being confronted with views that actively challenge your belief system can help you evolve these opinions and articulate them more clearly. Who knows, you may make some of your best friends by stepping out of your political bubble.

Tabitha L