Amodio says that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a forebrain region, "serves almost as a barometer for this degree of conflict."
"People who have more sensitive activity in that area,'' he notes, "are more responsive to these cues that say they need to adapt their behavior," reacting more quickly and accurately to the unexpected stimulus. On average, people who described themselves as politically liberal had about 2.5 times the activity in their ACCs and were more sensitive to the "No-Go cue'' than their conservative friends.
"They are more sensitive to the need for change and more sensitive to the need to change their behavior," Amodio says about the politically left-leaning subjects.
In other words, conservatives are just slow.
I wonder how I'd do on a test like this? Would I come out looking more conservative or liberal? I once took a test that showed me to be pretty close to the center, but I think it was because I harbor some attitudes which right-, and other attitudes which left-wingers, might consider extreme. The scale balanced but the weights were way out there.
There's an old joke about how, if you're conservative when young, it's because you have no heart, but if you're liberal when you're old it's because you have no brain. Well, if it's true that our brains slow down as we age, maybe the slowing affects the ACC. Now we know why older people tend towards conservatism.
Interesting stuff. I'll see what a Google Alert on the researcher's name turns up over time.
LA Times has an article on this topic: Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain.
Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results "provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity."
Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.
Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind about the conflict.
Caveats abound, of course.
Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.
Depending on the situation.
Maybe the world will be a better place when this sort of thing is widely understood and people are sensitized to the limits of their innate thinking style.