One intriguing remaining puzzle regards the direction of causality. One might infer that the differing brain structures identified by Kanai et al. suggest genetic foundations for the differences in ideology. However, recent work has shown that changes in cognitive function can lead to changes in brain structure. For instance, applicants who worked to learn the map of London in order to pass a knowledge test required of potential cab drivers demonstrated significant growth in their hippocampus, a brain region related to memory formation.
Although genetic variation has been shown to contribute to variation in political ideology and strength of partisanship, the portion of the variance in political affiliation explained by activity in the amygdala and insula is significantly larger, suggesting that acting as a partisan in a partisan environment may alter the brain, above and beyond the effect of the heredity. The interplay of genetic and environmental effects may also be driving the observed correlations between the size of brain regions and political affiliation. Further untangling the roles of party, ideology, genes, and neurocognition will be essential for advancing our understanding of political attitudes and behavior. The ability to accurately predict party identification using only neural activity during a risk-taking task suggests that investigating basic neuropsychological differences between partisans may provide us with more powerful insights than the previously-available traditional tools of psychology, sociology, and political science.
"I don't think advil is necessarily wrong (I don't really know), but I'm not sure how relevant the standards, uh, of fmri are to a study of this type. Different disciplines have different standards for what a good-sized N is because they measure different kinds of phenomena, and to the extent that this work is sociological the N is very small. Also, more importantly, I think you may be mistaken about the utility of small Ns in general: smaller-N studies don't have less "power," they're more likely to capture anomalous statistical patterns which are then regarded as equivalent in representative terms to larger-N studies, which is bad. There isn't more statistical noise in those cases, but less, because there's fewer data points. I'm not sure your grasp of statistics is serving you well here."
Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans
Liberals and conservatives exhibit different cognitive styles and converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs. In particular, a recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure, with liberals showing increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and conservatives showing increased gray matter volume in the in the amygdala. Here, we explore differences in brain function in liberals and conservatives by matching publicly-available voter records to 82 subjects who performed a risk-taking task during functional imaging. Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala. In fact, a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations yields a better fitting model of partisanship than a well-established model based on parental socialization of party identification long thought to be one of the core findings of political science. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.
"In addition to what clockzero listed, there's also a correlation/causation problem. I can easily believe that living in a constant state of offendedness and fear brought on by regularly watching Fox news would, over time, cause changes in the brain."
"One intriguing remaining puzzle regards the direction of causality. One might infer that the differing brain structures identified by Kanai et al. suggest genetic foundations for the differences in ideology. However, recent work has shown that changes in cognitive function can lead to changes in brain structure , . For instance, applicants who worked to learn the map of London in order to pass a knowledge test required of potential cab drivers demonstrated significant growth in their hippocampus, a brain region related to memory formation ."
clockzero: I don't think you have any idea what you're talking about, dude. Sorry.
"Please note that the text below was written by the feeling-being ‘Peter’ and feeling-being ‘Vineeto’ while they lived in a pragmatic (methodological), still-in-control/same-way-of-being Virtual Freedom before becoming actually free."
"A large body of research suggests that liberals and conservatives differ on important psychological characteristics . For example, conservatives demonstrate stronger attitudinal reactions to situations of threat and conflict. In contrast, liberals tend to be seek out novelty and uncertainty . Moreover, Democrats, who are well known to be more politically liberal, are more risk accepting than Republicans, who are more politically conservative . While ideology appears to drive reactions to the environment, environmental cues also influence political attitudes. For instance, external threats prime more conservative attitudes among liberals, moderates, and conservatives .
These ideological differences between political partisans have been attributed to logical, psychological, and social constraints  and past scholarship has focused primarily on institutional political processes or individual policy preferences, rather than biological differences in evaluative processes. But recent work has revealed physiological correlates of the differential responses to risk and conflict by liberals and conservatives. Consistent with the previously identified attitudinal divergence, conservatives have more intense physical reactions to threatening stimuli than liberals . Conversely, liberals had stronger physiological responses to situations of cognitive conflict than conservatives .
Risk taking, the tendency to select an action where there is an uncertain potential for a relatively large beneficial outcome but also the possibility of an adverse outcome – requires balancing conflicting drives to obtain reward and avoid possible losses –. Risk taking is also closely related to and influenced by subjective perception and apprehension of threat , . Considering differential physiological responses to threat and conflict by liberals and conservatives, examining neural processes during risk-taking decision-making may be an important avenue for understanding the link between mental processes and political preferences.
The discovery by Kanai and colleagues  that four brain regions implicated in risk and uncertainty (the right amygdala, left insula, right entorhinal cortex, and anterior cingulate (ACC)) differed in liberals and conservatives provided further evidence that political ideology might be connected to differences in cognitive processes. In the context of risk-taking decision-making, the amygdala is thought to be important for the processing of affective attributes involved in decision making –. The insular cortex is involved in the representation of internal bodily cues crucial for subjective feeling states and in signaling potential changes in interoceptive state to possible decision-related outcomes , , , . Further, intolerance of uncertainty is related to posterior insula functioning . The ACC is involved in conflict and error monitoring and in action selection , . Thus, the regions implicated in risk and conflict, cognitive processes during which liberals and conservatives have been shown to differ in physiological response, are the similar regions shown by Kanai et al. to differ structurally in liberals and conservatives. If patterns of brain activity in these regions during the evaluation of risks could dependably differentiate liberals and conservatives, then we would have further evidence of the link between mental processes and political preferences."
"Great - problem solved! Other commentors here have already addressed the numerous flaws inherent to this study (the exceptionally small data set, the fact that one of the people running it made up a scientific field just so he could claim expertise, etc) ..."
"... so there's no need for me to rehash it in detail. I'll just sit back and wait for more studies to expose this as the claptrap that it is."
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