The conservative brain according to science: rigid, dogmatic, ideological

brain4_nuncscio.jpg A new study suggests the way your brain is wired may dictate your politics. Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism, published in Nature, demonstrates that individuals with 'liberal' political beliefs are "more able to handle conflicting and unexpected information than the brains of their conservative counterparts." In other words, liberals are better able to eschew habitual behaviour in favour of a response more appropriate to the actual circumstances of a situation.

The Guardian and Slate- with varying levels of subtlety- pose the obvious question: does this mean liberals are smarter? The study is not conclusive, but provides strong evidence that progressive folks have more agile brains.

The new research casts some interesting light on the 'universities-as-hotbeds-of-pinko-liberalism' and 'journalists-as-godless-liberals' controversies. Being a journalist or a university professor requires intelligence and mental dexterity. Liberal brains are better suited to these jobs. It's not a left-wing conspiracy- academics and journalists just need to have left-wing brains. Conversely, some jobs are better suited to the reflexive dogmatism of the conservative brain, like any position at Fox News (read: no actual journalism happens there) and...uh, well...I'm sure there's something beyond corporate kleptocrat and inept president.

Actually, the Nature study may help explain why Bush and his gang went into Iraq with guns blazing, despite reason, logic and reams of information suggesting it was a really, really bad idea. It's not their fault- their brains are just wired to be thoughtlessly ideological.

Of course, all of this builds on J.S. Mill's pithy 1866 observation:

I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.

Indeed. While this basic truth has been apparent for at least 141 years, it is nice to finally have a little scientific evidence behind it.