Barack’s BrainThe Politics of the Right Prefontal Cortex

by Charles Brack

The world looks on quizzically at the bipolar nature of American politics, wondering how the same population that elected George W. Bush could elect his exact opposite four years later. Barack Obama is not just an ordinary shift towards liberalism that oscillates in roughly 16-year cycles (Schlesinger, 1949), he is a major memetic event, and a full-sprint towards the politics of the right prefrontal cortex. When it comes to the intellectual version of liberalism, no region of the brain contributes more.

Over the past 5 million years of hominid evolution, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) has increased in volume sixfold, compared to threefold for the rest of the brain. This prefrontal explosion has no parallel with any other region of the brain, and has contributed to some distinguishing features of human cognition: an orientation towards upper, distant space (Previc, 2006); a stronger orientation towards the future and the prediction of rewards in distant time (Knight, 1999); the multimodal integration of the association cortices; the initiation of complex behaviors; the suppression of prepotent behaviors; and, the expansion of working memory, which facilitates the sustained generation of neural patterns without sensory input, such as conceptual thinking (Wolters, 2008).

The PFC is the last neural region to develop in humans, and the most elusive to understand. This elusiveness is due to its very wide bandwidth of connectivity: the PFC is reciprocally connected to virtually every other neocortical and subcortical region, and activated by virtually all tasks taken on by the brain. The more difficult the task, the greater the activation. As we shall discuss later, the constant human interaction via mobile telecommunications, growth of the internet, increasing technological complexity, and greater economic specialization all seem to induce changes in political disposition, and all work through the expansion of the role of the PFC in human cognitive styles. In short, technology is hard on religion and reproduction, and technological advancement induces constant pressure towards cultural secularism.

Beyond partisan politics? The role of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex

The role of the prefrontal cortex in political behavior has yet to undergo serious analysis, but the handful of neuropolitical experiments point to key asymmetries within the various regions of the PFC. Grafman (2006) noted that political party affiliation strength was negatively correlated with activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), while the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) was part of an emotional network associated with facilitating partisan political attitudes. Are Obama’s repeated calls for post-partisan politics driven by the influence of the right DLPFC?

This dichotomy of political polarization, with inhibition by the DLPFC and activation by the VMPFC, follows from the general functionality of these respective subregions of the PFC. First, the VMPFC and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) are highly active in the evaluation of rewards and emotionally motivated behaviors (Fuster, 2001). Political orientation seems to be another domain of reward evaluation in the brain, albeit a complex one.

The VMPFC and OFC maintain major reciprocal connections with the temporal lobe and amygdalae complex, and are associated with emotionally charged reasoning (Goel, 2003). In his verbal reasoning experiment, Goel found that activation levels of the DLPFC (the left DLPFC in particular) are reciprocal to activation levels of the VMPFC, forming a sort of switch between unemotional (DLPFC) and emotional (VMPFC) reasoning.

While Goel found an activation of the left DLPFC in emotionally neutral reasoning, his experiment involved syllogisms that disproportionately engage the left hemisphere. Grafman’s finding of a right DLPFC network in the reduction of political polarization follows from the general trend of behavioral inhibition facilitated by the right hemisphere. However, the right DLPFC doesn’t have much help in inhibiting partisan politics, as much of the right hemisphere is far from politically neutral.

The approaching conservative and the withdrawing liberal 

The right hemisphere has often been implicated in behaviors associated with withdrawal and inhibition (see Demaree et al., 2005), and further, implicated in liberal attitudes and behaviors. Conversely, the left hemisphere, often implicated in approach and behavioral activation, is more closely associated with conservative cognitive styles (see The Amodio Experiment).

The liberal politics of the right hemisphere have been hinted at in a number of neurological studies, the first being documented by Michael Gazzaniga (1978) in a split-brain patient that had an enhanced ability for language comprehension in his right hemisphere. With the cerebral hemispheres operating independently, Gazzaniga had the patient describe his feelings towards a number of words (see below) presented alternatively to right visual field (left hemisphere) and left visual field (right hemisphere). Each hemisphere of the patient was asked to give its opinions about each of the words, from “like very much” (LVM), “like” (L), “undecided” (U), “dislike” (D), and “dislike very much” (DVM).


Responses to selected words in a split-brain patient
(solid line=left hemisphere, broken line=right hemisphere)

(Adapted from Gazzaniga)

For DAD, the patient gave a slightly higher rating in his right hemisphere (“like very much”) than his left hemisphere (“like”). For MOM, the ratings were both “like very much”. In fact, only one word caused a divergence of two rating levels between the left and right hemispheres: NIXON. The left hemisphere “liked” Nixon, while the right hemisphere “disliked” him. This was the first documented case where the two cerebral hemispheres, when isolated from each other, diverge in a task associated with political orientation.

Another experiment that also hinted at a more liberal right hemisphere was by Way and Masters (1996). They found that elicitation of anxious-arousal mood states in Republicans actually resulted in an improvement of their attitudes about Bill Clinton. The elicitation of anxious-arousal is primarily a right-lateralized cerebral function (Nitsche, 1999), as the right hemisphere is more specialized for monitoring threats, orienting towards potential threat, visuospatial attention, and exerting control over the autonomic and somatic functions in responding to threat. Thus, another result implicating the right hemisphere in more liberalized attitudes.

However, in what should have been a direct test of the political divergence of the left and right hemispheres, David Amodio and John Jost (2007) took a rather unusual tactic in what we believe to be an unaccredited sampling of a theory originally proposed on this website. Their tactic was behavioral inhibition asymmetries in conservatives and liberals, quite a change in direction, not only from the current trends in neuropolitical research, but also from the direction of their previous research. Other than their own intuition, Neuropolitics.org was the only potential source for Amodio and Jost’s inspiration for this experiment.

Regardless, their experiment worked rather well, despite some minor issues. To briefly review, the Amodio experiment (2007) tested the reaction times of conservatives and liberals as they were deliberately conditioned for a “Go” response to the letter “M” displayed on a computer screen, while intermittently requiring a “NoGo” response to an alternating “W”. The liberals were elevated in registering “conflict” related neural activity, that is, the liberals were more responsive to the novel “NoGo” condition.

Interestingly, this elevation was correlated with the strength of liberalism. The more liberal the person, the higher the level of “conflict” related neural activity. Amodio did not report the all-important laterality data, and based on our correspondence, stated that he was unaware of any hemispheric asymmetries in his own data (Amodio said he “never checked”). Even though Amodio had indicated he would review the laterality data, he quickly terminated his correspondence with us.

However, the gap in laterality data from the Amodio experiment could be filled by Braver et al. (2001), as that experiment confirmed that “inhibition (i.e. No-go responses) identified an almost wholly right-lateralized network”. So the liberals were exhibiting a greater neural response to novel stimuli than were conservatives, and further, this elevated response was localized to the right hemisphere, as would be predicted by the hemisphericity theory of political orientation.

Interestingly, in a virtual clone of Amodio’s 2007 conservative-liberal experiment, Amodio et al. (2008) reported a left-hemispheric frontal cortical elevation associated with behavioral activation, the opposite of behavioral inhibition. In this experiment, Amodio linked increased ERN and “NoGo” N2 amplitudes (that were associated with liberalism in his 2007 experiment) to the behavioral inhibition system, which has historically been associated with the functioning of the right hemisphere (see Demaree’s 2005 discussion). We shall discuss the behavioral inhibition system and its relationship to liberalism shortly.

Amodio’s two experiments could be combined to infer a positive result for the hemisphericity theory of political orientation. Although Amodio was focused on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the design of his experiment favored the detection of activation in this region, given its orientation towards rapid reaction times.

The unambiguous Nazi, the ambiguous destructor-type

While the handful of neuropolitical experiments all have aspects that hint at a liberal-conservative dichotomy between the right and left cerebral hemispheres, the major evidence for this divergence comes from the well-documented phenomenon of cognitive ambiguity. Liberals, on average, are less likely to have defined opinions on a wide variety of subjects, as their world is indeed a more ambiguous one.

The fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals, and one originally noted by Nazi psychologist Erik Jaensch in the 1930’s, was that they perceived the world differently. The terminology employed by Jaensch was derogatory to say the least, as he referred to liberals as the destructor-types, his approach was nonetheless on the right track, and fundamentally based on divergence in perceptual styles. To Jaensch, the liberals were cognitively unstable (can anyone say flip-flop?), while the conservatives (in Jaensch’s case, the Nazis) were organized and cognitively stable.

With Germany’s loss in World War II, it was payback time for Nazi psychology. Immediately after the war, Else Frenkel-Brunswik would turn Jaensch’s world upside down, noting some rather nasty traits about the conservatives, at least from the perspective of liberals: a tendency towards binary categorization (e.g., morality and immorality); a disinclination to think in terms of probabilities; higher levels of ethnic prejudice; a tendency to apply the same mental approaches in problem solving; and, a tendency towards authoritarianism. Unfortunately, Theodor Adorno would later be handed much of the credit for Frenkel-Brunswik’s theories, even though he had a minor role in The Authoritarian Personality.


Else Frenkel-Brunswik, the mother of the study of liberals and conservatives, committed suicide in 1958

The psychological mudslinging by the respective liberal and conservative camps was fundamentally a reflection of the paired brain, with the left and right hemispheres organized in a perceptual parallax, that is, they generated different views of the world about them. Depending on the nature of the stimuli, these parallax views could diverge considerably.

One thing about the left hemisphere, as noted by Michael Gazzaniga, is that it isn’t very good at being ambiguous. Describing some of his research on split-brain patients in The Ethical Brain, Gazzaniga noted:

 

Experiments on split-brain patients reveal how readily the left brain interpreter can make up stories and beliefs. In one experiment, for example, when the word walk was presented only to the right side of a patient’s brain, he got up and started walking. When he was asked why he did this, the left brain (where language is stored and where the word walk was not presented) quickly created a reason for the action: “I wanted to go get a Coke.”

 

Gazzaniga’s interpreter function of the left hemisphere has been hinted at by a wide range of studies: Goel and Dolan’s research on a left temporal system facilitating belief bias (2003); Faust and Lavidor’s finding that the left cerebral hemisphere is implicated with the propensity to apply single meanings to ambiguous targets, while the right hemisphere is prone to apply alternate meanings to the same targets (2003); and, Coney and Evans’ study indicating that the right hemisphere activates multiple meanings of the same word, while the left hemisphere selects the dominant meaning of that word (2000).

The conservative intolerance for ambiguity (see Jost’s discussion, 2003), at least when compared to liberals, is founded upon the left hemisphere’s propensity to reduce ambiguity in general. Thus the hemisphericity theory of political orientation, which we have promoted on this website ad nauseam. But with this propensity to reduce ambiguity comes a complementary set of behaviors that fall under the category of behavioral activation, that is, behaviors associated with approaching, making, acquiring, and utilizing salient objects.

Reduction in ambiguity facilitates behavioral activation, be it the acquisition of food, shelter, or the opposite sex, and corresponds with conservatism’s enhanced orientation towards the seeking of physical rewards that ultimately support their higher rates of reproduction. The conservative-liberal divergence on environmentalism reflects their asymmetry in reproductive rates. It is interesting to note that conservatives are more likely to be in occupations that produce “things”, such as manufacturing, construction, farming, oil, and mining, while liberals are more likely to be in occupations that are less oriented towards physical products, such as software, art, music, journalism, education, and health care (see The Secret Symbiosis).

Political affiliation and the preference for immediate rewards

An interesting statistic pertaining to the divergence towards reward was collected in a recent Neuropolitics.org survey. We asked the 1,703 participants to state a preference: would you rather have $1,000 now, or $1,200 a month from now? The percentage selecting $1,200 one month from now are listed in the graph below.


Percentage that would rather have $1,200 in a month than $1,000 now, by political cohort 
(VL=very liberal,L=liberal,M=moderate,C=conservative,VC=very conservative) (F=female,M=male)

While all political-gender cohorts preferred the higher and delayed reward ($1,200 a month from now), there were some notable subtrends. First, the moderate females had the highest preference for the delayed, yet higher reward, while the very conservative males and females had the lowest. There was a tendency for the delayed, yet higher reward to be preferred less as one went from left to right on the political scale.

What are we to make of the greater liberal shift in preference for the delayed reward, and the stronger conservative preference for the immediate reward? There is a rapidly expanding body of neurological research pertaining to the preference for immediate and delayed rewards, which is directly applicable to the study of political-religious disposition.

McClure et al. (2004) found that preference for immediate rewards activated regions associated with the midbrain dopamine system, such as the ventral striatum, medial prefrontal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and left posterior hippocampus. We should note that the dopaminergic system, which we have implicated in religious-conservatism, is hypothesized to predominately control reward learning (Schultz, 1997), something to consider as we discuss “morality”.

Conversely, McClure found that regions activated more by delayed rewards include a prominently right-lateralized network: the right DLPFC (the right DLPFC shows up repeatedly in liberalistic behaviors), the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex, along with the right and left interparietal cortices.

Given the proposal that liberals are more behaviorally influenced by their right cerebral hemisphere, we would expect them to exhibit a greater propensity to prefer delayed rewards, and indeed, this is what our survey results show. It is interesting that the serotonergic system, linked to liberalism and asymmetrically expressed in the right hemisphere, has been linked to the tolerance for delayed rewards (Doya, 2002).

Which came first, religious morality or the dopamine reward system? 

The left frontal cortex has been implicated in behavioral activation, that is, approach of objects with potential reward values, along with those behaviors associated with the avoidance of punishment. In animal studies, behavioral activation is mediated by mainly dopaminergic pathways emanating from the ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens and ventral striatum. But the emphasis on the left hemisphere’s propensity for behavioral activation has led humans down a pathway from which they would not return, and one that would append itself to the predominately left-hemispheric neural networks to regulate and inhibit the negative social impact of unrestricted reward seeking: religious morality.

We have previously implicated the dopaminergic system in “morality” (see Morality and the Dopamine Reward System). The enhanced conservative propensity for reward seeking and the application of morality in regulating their social behavior arises from their greater orientation towards the left-hemisphere’s dopaminergic system and unambiguous cognition.

Conversely, the right frontal cortex is at the head of the behavioral inhibition system, which produces avoidant behaviors in response to novel stimuli; increases the neural resources devoted to attention; promotes freezing behaviors in the presence of threatening stimuli (such as predators); and induces fear, anxiety, and depression. It is controlled primarily by serotonergic pathways connecting the raphe nucleus to septo-hippocampal systems, along with the noradrenergic pathways originating from the locus coeruleus (Winters, 2000). These serotonergic and noradrenergic systems are distributed asymmetrically in the right hemisphere, while the dopaminergic system is distributed mainly in the left hemisphere (Previc, 1996).

Thus, the greater correlation of liberalism with the behavioral inhibition system provides the liberals with a mechanism to regulate their social behavior without the need for culturally developed moral constructs. For liberals, religiously-tainted morality is less necessary to reduce socially-unacceptable reward seeking, although it seems to be necessary for behavioral regulation of religious conservatives. Further, liberal social behavior doesn’t vary as widely or change as quickly as conservative morality. To illustrate this dichotomy, note that liberals are much more inclined to think that morality comes from concern for others, while conservatives are more likely to believe that it comes from god.

As such, conservatives routinely coordinate their attitudes and therefore more reliant on key individuals for this coordination (e.g., Rush Limbaugh on weekdays, or a local pastor once a week). Attitude coordination among religious conservatives is highly routine, and requires reinforcement from others. Sosis and Bressler (2003) noted that religious communes may be more likely to organize around a charismatic leader that maintains substantial control over individual attitudes, and this conforms to what we have noted to be more positive attitudes that conservatives maintain towards social dominance (see How Conservatives and Liberals Organize into Social Groups). A recent example of this was the rapid modulation of conservative attitudes against Islam after 9/11, while liberal attitudes changed little (see 09-11-2001: Ethnic and Religious Attitudes Five Years After).

Obama and the politics of the right prefrontal cortex

Obama is left-handed, which itself is a poor predictor of political-religious affiliation: Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Harry Truman, and John McCain were all left-handed. However, there are indeed studies indicating a mild relationship between sensory-motor hemispheric dominance and political-religious orientation.

Those with mixed handedness are less likely to believe in religious dogma such as creationism (Niebauer, 2002). Liberals have a slightly greater preference to use their left ear during phone conversations (Brack, 2005), possibly indicating greater reliance on the right hemisphere (auditory stimuli are presented disproportionately to the contralateral hemisphere), although this phenomenon varies with age. To further highlight the poor relationship between sensory-motor hemispheric dominance and political-religious disposition, note that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama prefer left ear phone conversations.

Obama has a very deliberate and pensive speaking style, and describes it as “letting people see how I think”. It is possibly an indicator of a strong adaptation of his right prefrontal cortex in formulating concepts. While language production is predominately the domain of the left hemisphere, even in left-handers, the right inferior prefrontal cortex is engaged when the demands of executive semantic processing are high (Samson, 2007).

The prefrontal cortex is one of the major integrative regions of the brain, and as such, inhibits prepotent behaviors and rote concepts more than any other neural region, especially the right prefrontal cortex (Braver, 2001). Obama’s impromptu speaking style diverges from his polished oratory, as it is slower, and sometimes generates obscure or “off-the-wall” references. Obama may begin a sentence with one thought, sometimes changing his conceptual direction in mid-sentence, giving the appearance of disjointedness and grammatical error.

In impromptu speaking, he has a tendency to integrate autobiographical memories, which are more implicated with activity in the right hemisphere, from the DLPFC to the anterior temporal cortex (Keenan et al., 2000). Obama’s command of prosody has few peers among the elite class of politicians, and not surprisingly, prosody is mainly the function of the right hemisphere (Shapiro, 1985).

Obama follows the pathway of “intellectual liberalism” quite well. The distinguishing features of intellectual liberalism are the wide tolerance for genetic diversity, desire for equality, empathy, and propensity towards new ideas. The right DLPFC has been implicated in all of these attributes: inhibition of racist tendencies (Richeson, 2003); aversion to dominance (Grafman, 2006); aversion to inequality (Knoch, 2006); and hypothesis generation (Goel, 1995).

Is Obama really religious? Or just really stressed?

Obama presents a significant problem for any theory of an antireligious bias of the right DLPFC. We believe it to be the major “antireligious” portion of the brain, that is, its propensity to inhibit belief bias (Goel, 2003) makes it the prime suspect in the subversion of religious beliefs. Like the large majority of liberals, Obama derides many of the passages in the Bible (see this Youtube video). However, there is evidence for Obama’s spiritual episodes during his early (and presumably stressful) college years, which included religious fasting.


Obama and the “big 3” non-prescription stress coping mechanisms: exercise, cigarettes, and religion

The right hemisphere is not completely antireligious, as it seems to contribute to the phenomenon of “spirituality”, that is, more ambiguous religious constructs. We have previously proposed that these more ambiguous spiritual constructs are primarily the domain of the right temporal-parietal cortices, with the right DLPFC being the primary adversary to both religiosity and spirituality. Previous studies have noted a relationship between right hemispheric activity and magical ideation and paranormal beliefs (such as Barnett, 2002).

Further, we have also proposed that this right-hemispheric bias of the spiritual actually makes them the cognitive cousins of the agnostics and atheists. In fact, the spiritual share many more behavioral and cognitive attributes with the nonreligious than with the religious (see God, meet Darwin). While Obama’s spiritual disposition seems to be an anathema to his predisposition towards the right prefrontal cortex, this subversion is possibly an indicator of a stress adaptation (note that George W. Bush also utilized religion as an stress adaptation).

While Obama’s “cool” seems to be an indicator of a strong serotonergic tone to his central nervous system, he does adapt stress coping mechanisms such cigarette smoking, athletics, and religion. Several studies (e.g. Shaw, 2005) have indicated a relationship between stress coping, religiosity, and spirituality. Further, those with a tendency towards depression are more likely to relapse if they stop smoking (Covey, 1998), indicating that smoking is a stress coping mechanism. Indeed, smoking increases dopamine release in the ventral striatum, while the exercise of large muscle groups (e.g., basketball) reduces the negative impacts of anxiety (Guszkowska, 2004).

Is the Republican Party the Caucasian Party?

Obama’s overtures at bipartisanship have had poor results, and with a very good Darwinian reason: genetics. Political behavior has no evolutionary function other than modifying the gene frequencies within a population. The best evidence for this hypothesis are the Democratic and Republican parties, which now represent two divergent coefficients of genetic relatedness, that is, the Republicans are less genetically diverse than the Democrats. About 99% of elected Republican legislators are Caucasian, a staggering number in an electorate that is currently 74% Caucasian.

The continuing decline in the percentage of the Caucasian voters has played very well into what the liberals do best: forming into large genetically-diverse coalitions. While the white conservatives are more reproductive than the white liberals, the ethnic liberals, via immigration and higher reproductive rates, have overcome this advantage. In 2008, 66 % of Latinos voted for Obama compared to 32% for McCain, Asians voted 61% to 35%, and Blacks voted 95% to 4%. Caucasians voted 55% for McCain and 43% for Obama. In the United States, the Caucasians are the race least likely to organize their political behavior along racial lines, and their voting preferences confirm this trend.

The high-energy and space-hungry model of Caucasian reproduction, founded upon the traits evolved from survival in regions with lower sunlight intensity, has fallen victim to the tendency for populations that require more energy in reproduction to be displaced by populations that use less. The rate of this displacement seems to be proportional to the energy difference.

The Republican party, with its recent selection of Michael Steele as chairman, is deliberately attempting to broaden its genetic face. However, what is a calculated maneuver among Republicans comes more naturally to Democrats, as white liberals are fundamentally less averse to non-Caucasian culture and genetics. The white liberals, with higher preferences for genetic diversity in mate selection (see Who are the Caucasians attracted to?) are merging into this mass infusion of non-Caucasian genetics more quickly, and reaping the political rewards. Cultural adaptation, genetic diversity, and the tendency to form into large groups are some of the Darwinian advantages of liberalism.

Technology and trends in political-religious affiliation


Talking on the cell phone hinders visual scanning more than talking to someone in your car 

One final question remains: how do technological trends induce political-religious trends? There is much evidence for the “secularization hypothesis” of economic development: the inverse relationship between economic development and religious attendance, belief in heaven, and belief in hell (Barro, 2003); the inverse relationship between urbanization and religious attendance (Barro,2003 ) and religiosity (Valkonen, 2008); and, the inverse relationship between education levels and religious attendance across denominations (Sacerdote, 2001) and religiosity (Valkonen, 2008).

Technological progress and economic development induce specialization, which increases the range of genetics one is economically dependent on. The products found in your average Walmart have collectively been produced by people representing every gene in the human gene pool. The genetic diversity involved in economic production adds a new wrinkle to the evolutionary game of political-religious affiliation.

While international trade interleaves worldwide genetics like never before, the age of hyperconnectivity is upon us. This hyperconnectivity is particularly prominent in the American teenager, with over 70% currently having some variety of cell or smart phone. Of those teens that have a cell phone, 45% indicate that it is the key to their social life. Further, teens ranked the cell phone second in determining one’s social status (clothing was number one).

Also interesting is the fact that the younger the teen, the more they prefer texting. Teenage females prefer texting over talking. The same goes for smart phone users, regardless of gender. Curiously, 36% of teens that text do so because they don’t want to talk in person. For those teens that have internet access on their phones, 48% indicate they visit social networking sites. Further hinting at genetic diversity in social networking, 67% indicate they’d like their cell phones to translate any language instantly.

Communications technology seems to be increasing the size of social networks, especially among the young. But are these expanded and presumably more genetically diverse social networks impacting political-religious disposition? If so, how? Robin Dunbar has proposed a relationship between neocortex volume and the number of people one can manage in routine social life, thereby inducing a natural limiting force on interactive group size.

Humans have the greatest Dunbar number of all primates, which has been placed at around 150 individuals, which interestingly, is near the modern-day group size limit promoted by the Hutterites in South Dakota. However, does the cognitive load associated with maintaining a large number of social relationships disproportionately engage the prefrontal cortex? Activations in the prefrontal cortex follow the general rule: the more difficult the tasks, the greater the activation. If social networks are expanding due to the cell phone and internet, is political-religious disposition changing due to a presumably enhanced load on the prefrontal cortex?

So far, there is little evidence regarding the technologically-induced expansion of social networks and political-religious disposition, only to imply a mild relationship between liberalism and cell phone and internet usage. However, this correlation may be spurious, due to the correlation between age and cell phone usage.

However, our own survey results indicate a strong relationship between internet usage and male liberals. A whopping 60% of liberal males are on the internet 2 or more hours each day, while almost all other political-gender cohorts fall somewhere in the 40-45% range. Note that 56% of libertarian males also indicate 2 or more internet hours per day. However, our survey was an internet survey, so these numbers do not represent actual population usage.

There is indeed a caveat here: do small towns and cities induce a greater burden of social engagement than dense urban environments? Dense urban populations promote the indifference effect, that is, people deliberately avoid social intercourse with others, presumably to reduce the impact of large numbers of people on cognitive load. It is interesting to note that urbanites tend to indicate higher levels of shyness, which seems to serve the function of reducing the cognitive load from social interaction and the averse impact of potential conflicts with others.

Overall, technology has produced a higher premium for prefrontal activity, and the constant strain of keeping up with technological trends may indeed be spilling over into political-religious disposition. Based on the hemisphericity theory of political orientation, the political ramifications of new technology will vary depending on the long-term asymmetric activation of the prefrontal cortices. It is interesting that hotbeds of liberalism, such as universities, tend to have a substantial and sustained impact on the activation of the prefrontal cortex.

Charles Brack, March 2009

References:

D. Amodio, J. Jost, S. Master, C. Yee. (2007) Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism. Nature Neuroscience 10.

D. Amodio, S. Master, C. Yee, S. Taylor. (2008) Neurocognitive components of the behavioral inhibition and activation systems: Implications for theories of self-regulation. Psychophysiology. (45).

R. Barro and R. McCleary (2003) Religion and economic growth across countries. American Sociological Review 68, 760–81.

K. Barnett and M. Corballis (2002). Ambidexterity and magical ideation. Laterality, 7, 75–84.

T. Braver, D. Barch, J. Gray, D. Molfese, A. Snyder. (2001) Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Response Conflict: Effects of Frequency, Inhibition, and Errors. Cerebral Cortex, Vol 11, No 9.

C. Brack and X. Zhang (2005) Age-Induced Conservatism and the Right Hemisphere Aging Hypothesis. Neuropolitics.org. May 2005.

J. Coney and K. Evans (2000) Hemispheric asymmetries in the resolution of lexical ambiguity . Neuropsychologia. Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 272-282.

L. Covey, A. Glassman, and F. Stetner (1998) Cigarette Smoking and Major Depression. Jounal of Addictive Diseases. 1998;17(1):35-46.

K. Doya (2002) Metalearning and neuromodulation. Neural Network 2002, 15:495-506.

H. Demaree, E. Everhart, E. Youngstrom, and D. Harrison. Brain Lateralization of Emotional Processing: Historical Roots and a Future Incorporating “Dominance”. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Review. 2005;4;3

M. Faust and M. Lavidor (2003). Semantically convergent and semantically divergent priming in the cerebral hemispheres: lexical decision and semantic judgment. Brain Research. Cognitive Brain Research. Oct;17(3):585-97.

J. Fuster (2001) The prefrontal cortex—an update: time is of the essence. Neuron 30:319–333

M. Gazzaniga (2006) The Ethical Brain. The University of Chicago Press.

M. Gazzaniga and J. LeDoux (1978) The Integrated Mind. Plenum Press, New York and London.

V. Goel (1995) Sketches of Thought. MIT Press

V. Goel and R. Dolan (2003) Reciprocal neural response within lateral and ventral medial prefrontal cortex during hot and cold reason. Neuroimage. 2314-2321.

V. Goel and R. Dolan (2003). Explaining modulation of reasoning by belief. Cognition 87.

V. Goel and R. Dolan. (2004). Differential involvement of left prefrontal cortex in inductive and deductive reasoning. Cognition.

M. Guszkowska (2004) Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression, and mood. Psychiatria Polska. 2004 Jul-Aug;38(4):611-20

J. Jost, J. Glaser, A. Kruglanski, and F. Sulloway (2003) Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition. Psychological Bulletin Vol. 129, No. 3, 339–375.

J. Keenan, M. Wheeler, G. Gallup, and A. Pascual-Leone (2000) Self-recognition and the right prefrontal cortex. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Vol 4. No. 9.

D. Knoch, A. Pascual-Leone, K. Meyer, V. Treyer, and E. Fehr. (2006) Diminishing Reciprocal Fairness by Disrupting the Right Prefrontal Cortex. Science. Vol. 314. no. 5800, pp. 829 – 832

K. Knutson, J. Wood, M. Spampinato, and J. Grafman (2006) Politics on the Brain: An fMRI Investigation. Social Neuroscience. 2006 March ; 1(1): 25–40.

C. Niebauer, S. Christman, and S. Reid (2002). Degree of handedness predicts beliefs in creationism versus evolution. Poster presented at Toward a Science of Consciousness Symposium, Tucson, AZ.

J. Nitsche, W. Heller, P. Palmieri, and G. Miller (1999) Contrasting patterns of brain activity in anxious apprehension and anxious arousal. Psychophysiology (1999), 36:628-637

F. Previc (1996). Nonright-handedness, central nervous system and related pathology, and its lateralization: A reformulation and synthesis. Developmental Neuropsychology, 12, 443–515

J. Richeson, A. Baird, H. Gordon, T. Heatherton, C. Wyland, S. Trawalter, J. Shelton (2003) An fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function. Nature Neuroscience. Nov 2003.

B. Sacerdote and E Glaeser (2001). Education and Religion, National Bureau of Economic Research, working paper no. 8080, January.

D. Samson, C. Connolly, and G. Humphreys (2007) When “happy” means “sad”: Neuropsychological evidence for the right prefrontal cortex contribution to executive semantic processing. Neuropsychologica Volume 45, Issue 5, 2007, Pages 896-904

W. Schultz, P. Dayan, and P. Montague (1997) A neural substrate of prediction and reward. Science 1997, 275:1593-1599

A. Shaw, S. Joseph, and P. Linley (2005) Religion, spirituality, and posttraumatic growth: a systematic review. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture. Volume 8, Issue 1 March 2005 , pages 1 – 11.

B. Shapiro and M. Danly (1985) The role of the right hemisphere in the control of speech prosody in propositional and affective contexts. Brain and Language 1985 May;25(1):19-36.

R. Sosis and E. Bressler. (2003) Cooperation and Commune Longevity: A Test of the Costly Signaling Theory of Religion. Cross-Cultural Research. May 2003. Vol 37, No. 2, p.211-39.

T. Valkonen, J. Blomgren, T. Kauppinen, P. Martikainen, and E. Maenpaa (2008) The effects of regional socioeconomic and cultural characteristics on the spatial patterns of the Second Demographic Transition in Finland. Demographic Research, Vol 19, Article 61, pp. 2043-2056

B. Way and R. Masters (1996), Political attitudes: Interactions of cognition and affect. Motivation and Emotion, Volume 20, Number 3 (September, 1996): pp. 205-236

R. Winters, W. Scott, and C. Beevers (2000). Affective distress as a central and organizing symptom in depression: Neurobiological mechanisms. Stress, coping, and depression (pp. 177-219). Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s