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Politics on the brain - scientists say grey matter differs between left and right

posted 20 Apr 2011, 09:13 by Mpelembe   [ updated 20 Apr 2011, 09:16 ]

Scientists in the UK have revealed that people with opposing political views have different brain structures. The London University College researchers say the part of the brain that processes emotional reactions is larger in conservatives than in liberals.

REUTERS/ITN POOL/ UK POOL - Britain may well be governed by a coalition of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties, but it isn't only their political policies that they differ on.

Scientists at London's University College have found those who label themselves as 'liberal' and

'conservative' also have different structures to their brains.

The results suggest conservatives have more grey matter in the area of the brain linked to emotions

But liberals have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, an area of the organ used in decision making.

Using MRI technology, the brains of around 90 volunteers were scanned and analysed.

Among them were two politicians as Ryoto Kanai who conducted the study explains.


''We scanned two politicians, one politician was from the Labour party and the other person from the conservative party and we specifically looked at the amygdala size and the anterior cingulate. Surprisingly enough we found a consistent pattern, the conservative politician had a larger amygdala compared to the liberal politician.''

By looking at the brain structures Kanai says the brains of liberals tend to be more active in situations involving conflict or uncertainty whereas conservatives are more thoughtful than liberals in processing emotions like fear.

But Neuroscientist Gerain Rees says more tests will need to be carried out to show the true impact that fear has to play.


''What we found was that a structure to do with the emotion processing, called the amygdala, was larger in people who reported Conservative attitudes, and that doesn't necessarily mean those people are more fearful or as some people might have it a fear centre is bigger, that structure is involved in all sorts of emotion processing, not just fear.''

The scientists can't yet tell if it's nature or nurture that changes the minds of politicians like Nick Clegg and David Cameron.

Despite their show of unity the two men are at opposite ends of the political spectrum and they're expected to demonstrate their differences in a vote on political reform in Britain in May.

Cameron wants a 'no' vote and Clegg wants a 'yes' -- they may talk about unity but, according to the research, their brains may be keeping them at political loggerheads.

Basmah Fahim, Reuters.