Democrats vs. Republicans: Brains Wired Differently for Risk

First Posted: Feb 14, 2013 10:25 AM EST

It turns out that there may be a psychological reason why Republicans and Democrats have such different viewpoints. A team of political scientists and neuroscientists have shown that liberals and conservatives use different parts of their brains when making risky decisions.

The study, conducted by Darren Schreiber and colleagues, explored the different ways in which the brains of liberals and conservatives function.  Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study looked up the political party of each participant in the experiment. The researchers then asked the 82 participants to play a simple gambling game. While the Republicans and Democrats did not differ in the risks that they took, there were striking differences in the actual brain activity during the risk-taking.

Democrats, for example, showed significantly greater activity in the part of the brain associated with social and self-awareness. Republicans, in contrast, showed greater activity in a region involved with the body's fight-or-flight system. Because of these results, researchers were able to conclude that, in fact, people from differing political parties engage in different cognitive processes when they think about risk.

The researchers didn't stop there, though. They also found that by measuring the brain during risk-taking behavior, they were able to predict whether a person is a Democrat or a Republican with 82.9 percent accuracy. In contrast, the traditional model that uses a person's mother and father to predict the child's affiliation is only accurate 69.5 percent of the time. And another model that is based on the differences in brain structure is only accurate 71.6 percent of the time.

So what does this mean exactly? The results could pave the way for new researching concerning voter behavior. It could allow political candidates to better understand how liberals and conservatives think. Whether or not this type of analysis will be feasible before the next presidential election, though, is another matter.

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