Study of the Day: Conservative Brains Have Bigger Fear Centers

Political leanings are rooted in many things. They can grow out of religionincome background, friends, and who knows what else.

But a new study claims to have found that brain chemistry may play a larger role in our politics than previously thought.

Researchers from the University College London scanned the brains of group of research participants and a handful of politicians. The results? Those who identified as politically conservative had significantly larger amygdalas, the almond shaped part of the brain in charge of “primitive” emotion like fear and anxiety. Not only that but their anterior cingulate—the part of the brain thought to be responsible for impulses like courage and optimism—was found to be smaller in conservatives as well.

Neurologist Geraint Rees explains:

It is very significant because it does suggest there is something about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some way determines or results in our political attitudes

This isn’t the only study to try and pin our politics to our bodies. Researchers have dabbled with what they’ve dubbed the “liberal gene” which asserted that ideology is affected by a dopamine receptor called DRD4. (Incidentally, DRD4 is also hypothesized to heighten the likelihood of infidelity as well.)

Naturally, political types have used both these studies to tout their own biological superiority. Here’s Christopher Walker of Salon:

Across the right-leaning blogosphere and twitterverse, DRD4 was cited as the underlying cause of the “mental illness” known as liberalism; and some conservative tweeters have even tried to claim that the enlarged amygdala just means that conservatives “have bigger brains.” Of course, the first claim begs the question, and the second ignores the shrunken anterior cingulate.

Both studies are still far from conclusive, and of course, all the political spin is a little silly. Some will say that this means that conservatives are “afraid” and therefore less “good,” or less “manly,” and some will say that they’re more in touch with their instincts, and therefore “better” and “more manly.”

We’re wondering—did they scan any libertarians?


About Lu Fong

Lu Fong was a staff writer and blog editor for the Good Men Project in its formative years. As the requisite woman on staff, her hobbies included cleaning, cooking, knitting, fainting, and childbearing. Follow her on Twitter @lufong.


  1. C. Felix says:

    Please, don’t confuse “Republican” minds with “Conservative” minds.

    I’m a conservative, but far from being a Republican.

  2. Adam Pendleton says:

    Well, I’m glad they’re at least doing more neurological research. I’m sure the information will be misused by some, but that’s the nature of information in general. My amygdala is apparently too small to be worried by such facts of life.

  3. A little silly? Rather, very silly. Anyhow, it is time for the mantra, the litany against pseudoscience: correlation does not equal causation!


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