Is Obama-mania located in a specific part of the brain? Does devotion to McCain spring from a different lobe? Last night, a packed crowd gathered to discuss this question at the NYU event, “Your Brain on Politics: The Neuroscience of Elections.” The headliners were three NYU psychology professors—John Jost, David Amodio, and Elizabeth Phelps—who presented their research on what brain biology can tell us about political views.
Jost started off by discussing the “Big Five Model of Personality,” which, according to his results, offers clues about the minds of hardcore liberals versus their conservative counterparts.
He found that liberals ranked themselves consistently higher on the “creativity and openness to new experiences” scale, while conservatives did the same for “conscientiousness and order & discipline/rule following.” These traits also manifested themselves in the subjects’ “behavioral residue,” with liberals having more colorful and cluttered bedrooms and offices while conservatives’ spaces were tidier and more scrubbed.
Jost then discussed the body of research on the relationship between political views and perceived threats. In particular, data has shown that reminders of death—from disturbing images to words briefly flashed on a screen—caused all people, regardless of political beliefs, to increase support for conservative ideas across the topical spectrum, from same-sex marriage to foreign policy. The latest of these studies, for example, found that the greater a person’s sensitivity to disturbing images—a large spider on a face, a maggot-filled wound—the higher a chance he or she had of supporting a conservative agenda.
All of which presents interesting questions about the influence of neurobiology on ballot casting, and how a predisposition for sensitivity to threats can push you towards a party. But what about the current election? Given that the current administration has overseen such massive, recent turmoil—not to mention that, for the first time in recent history, the GOP is running with a VP candidate that many consider unsafe—could that upset the balance for threat-sensitive voters? Maybe, said Jost, who told DISCOVER in an e-mail:
I think it’s possible that threat and uncertainty could work against the GOP this election, but *only* if (1) voters decide that Republicans are primarily to blame for creating financial, foreign policy, and environmental crises through bad policies, and (2) the Democrats are able to convince voters that they have sound solutions that will definitely work to fix the problems caused by conservative policies.
Links to this Post
- How Much Does Your Brain Control How You Vote? | September 18, 2008