10 January 2011

Are politicians made or born?

According to British scientist, Professor Geraint Rees of University College London, the brains of Conservative politicians and supporters are physically different to those of their Labour counterparts.

Inspired by an off-hand comment from the actor Colin Firth, Professor Rees scanned the brains of a Conservative and Labour politician and issued a political questionnaire to 90 other people who had previously had their brains scanned by the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

What they found was that Conservatives have larger amygdalas, which are almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotion, and smaller anterior cingulates, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life. The opposite was true in the brains of people with more liberal and left-leaning political opinions.

Since the study looked only at adult brains it is impossible to tell whether these peoples' brains had developed in this way as a result of their beliefs, or whether it was the physical attributes of their brains that led them to hold those views in the first place. All we know is that where nature and nurture are concerned, neuroscientists appear to be increasingly favouring nature over nurture – which suggests that politicians and political activist are not made, they’re born!

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  1. It never ceases to amaze me that doctors and scientists seem surprised by findings that suggest that nature rather than nurture is the dominant force in shaping our brains and therefore the way we think. After all, the rest of our body works in exactly this way – i.e. we cannot think ourselves taller or become blond by moving to Scandinavia. The only reason so many people want to believe that we are "shaped by our surroundings" is because they find it difficult to face up to the fact that we are bon the people we are and that we are not as self-determinant as we would like to think.

  2. I agree with Brian. I also think that the fact that findings like this seem to surprise people is because so much has been invested in trying to turn psychology into a science. The fact that much of what is considered psychology is in fact down to the physical wiring of the brain is therefore an inconvenient truth for psychological snake oil salesmen.


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