In 2018, the divide between liberals and conservatives is more prominent than ever. Our social media feeds are forever filled with political posts screaming and yelling at the other partisan side. A common comment within these posts usual goes along the line of “how can people think this why” or “I don’t understand how someone can think that,” which can lead many people to wonder if there is a physiological difference between opposing partisan brains. Are political orientations passed down from our parents or do they tend to be random? Can you actually see the difference between the brains of different political parties? Due to these questions, the neurological differences between liberals and conservatives has become an interesting topic for researchers.

In 2013, Schreiber and researchers found that “a simple model of partisanship that includes mother’s and father’s party accurately predicts about 69.5% of self-reported choices between the Democratic and Republican party.” These findings then lead to further research as to see whether or not brain structures has a higher rate of prediction. Research continued in 2013, when researchers investigated the theory that participants would express different levels of anterior cingulate cortex responsivity. The anterior cingulate cortex is important for controlling and managing emotions. Their experiment used two different surveys to measure political affiliation versus attitude towards traditionalism and egalitarianism. They found that liberals, which were more likely to support egalitarianism, had higher scores on tasks related to responsiveness. They also found that individuals who identified as conservative were more likely to show habitual responses when performing these tasks. This study did have some indication that liberals had more activation in their anterior cingulate cortex, but it was not statistically significant. This means that it needs to be looked into further.

Schreiber also found that political affiliation could be accurately determined 71.6 percent of the time by looking at brain structure. Republicans seemed to have more activity in the right amygdala. Democrats had more activity in the left posterior insula when determining between safe and risky decisions. The amygdala is vital in the process of focusing attention to external cues and fear conditioning. It is also needed for a number of other emotions and processes. The insula is important for basic emotions, pain perception and sense of self. The differences in the activity of these areas during the same tasks confirms that there is a physiological difference in the ways that Republicans and Democrats perceive information and think.

Schreiber also shares that partisan environments seemed to foster increased activation in the insula or amygdala, depending on the nature of the partisan environment. This gives us somewhat of an explanation to the “groupthink” that tends to rear its head in our political climate. Maybe, college kids are not becoming liberal because it’s trendy. Maybe, they are becoming liberal because their environment is physically changing how their brain functions. Children might adopt their parent’s political views because they were in that environment for most of their life and their brain adapted. Next time, you are in a political argument and just cannot understand the other side, remember that others might not think the same way you do.

Tabitha L