from the world's big
Liberal brains are different from conservative brains, but dialogue is still possible
What the difference in brain structure between liberals and conservatives? And where do our political convictions come from: rational deliberation, or biological determinism?
Dr. Gail Saltz is a bestselling author of numerous books and the go-to expert on a variety of important psychological issues. She is Chair of the 92nd Street Y "7 Days of Genius Advisory Committee" and Consultant and Event Moderator for the Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Initiative. Dr. Saltz is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine, a psychoanalyst with the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, and has a private practice in Manhattan.
Gail Saltz: So I think what’s really fascinating is that there have been a number of recent studies looking at brain structural differences between liberals and conservatives. And what’s been found in several studies is that liberals tend to have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus. That is an area that is responsible for taking in new information and that impact of the new information on decision making or choices. Conservatives tended on the whole to have a larger right amygdala. Amygdala being a deeper brain structure that processes more emotional information - specifically fear based information. So it’s really responsible for the flight or fright response. And this isn’t everybody. It’s not black and white and of course then, you know, what about all of the people in the middle? But basically the study showed that if you just based it on brain structural size different you could predict who would be a conservative and who would be a liberal with frequency of 71.6 percent.
71.6 percent is a pretty high ability to predict who is a conservative and who is a liberal just from brain structure. When you look at what your parents were in terms of predicting what you might be in terms of conservative versus liberal, that enabled you to predict in studies at a rate of 69.5 percent. So very close. Not quite as good and why is that interesting? It’s because the brain is plastic. So the question as to whether you have a brain structure to start with that informs whether you will be a liberal or conservative or whether the formation of certain thoughts from your parents for example shapes your brain structure. Because the brain is plastic and ever changing, particularly in youth. So does thinking certain thoughts or predominantly let’s say utilizing your right amygdala versus your anterior cingulate gyrus inform the growth of those areas and therefore help you predict later who is liberal and who is conservative.
So in terms of interpreting the meaning of different sized structures for a liberal versus a conservative I think you have to look at what that area is predominantly responsible for. So for instance for conservatives if you’re right amygdala is enlarged and that’s the fear processing area you would expect maybe choices or decisions or character and personality to be more informed by a response to a fearful situation. So for example conservatives in fact in personality studies do tend to rate higher in areas of stability, loyalty, not liking change, being more religiously involved in terms of decision making, having that rate higher for them in making certain choices. And if you look at liberals from a personality character standpoint you’re going to find stronger ratings in terms of liking change wanting to actually base decision making on new information, on science information. And so those differences are not surprising in light of these brain structural differences.
Being a liberal or being a conservative really is not black and white. It’s really a bell shaped curve where, you know, someone who considers themselves conservative may be far less conservative so to speak than someone else who still calls themselves a conservative. And that bell shaped curve continues all the way through where in the middle there may be a large group that calls themselves independents.
What we don’t know is whether that has to do with differences in brain structure and so would we see in independents, no one’s does that study to say oh, independents don’t show any differences in brain structure or any differences in say risk taking reaction. So we don’t know for sure what that means but I think it’s fair to say that even when we looked at differences in brain structure with a reliability of 71.6 percent that still leaves, you know, a very larger number that don’t fit into that category. So, you know, where do they fall out? Are they more likely to be independents in their mind? We don’t know the answer to that but certainly, you know, these are not hard and fast rules. This is not diagnostic science and people who are independent obviously have certain characteristics I’ll say of both sides are somewhere just like they sound in the middle.
I think by understanding what’s going on structurally in the brain and functionally in the brain we can better understand what informs people’s very strong opinions that ultimately inform our political system, right. Because it’s one person, one vote. And in trying to change people’s minds I think everybody has to look at what’s behind the ability to change a mind. Is it really changeable?
When we look at voting and changing minds and say political advertising you have to recognize that all of that new information always comes in through the prism of your brain. Which means that what I say to you versus you may be heard differently even though I’ve said the same thing. So it comes in through the prism of does what you said make me nervous and afraid and therefore I’m going to resort to my old standby I don’t want to change my decision? Or am I going to hear the same information and say oh, that’s novel. I have a receptivity to novel information. Therefore that’s interesting to me and I’m going to think about whether I might change my mind based on that new information.
I think that’s what the science is basically saying to us that there are going to be some people who are going to hear the information and retreat to their original thinking. And other people are going to hear new information and say that really does change my mind.
If we’re trying to have a society that will work in its own best interest let’s say then we do want to be able to communicate with one another. And so if you’re a liberal and say you want to talk to a conservative about gay marriage you want to have in your mind how it might still speak to loyalty, stability and religious belief in some way. You want to have those ideas inform your communication as opposed to simply saying but, you know, this percentage of the population is homosexual and therefore, you know, we should consider whether everybody should have those same rights. And, you know, science shows it’s not a choice. It’s simply a fact you’re gay or not gay. And therefore shouldn’t those people have the same rights? That’s not the best way to appeal perhaps to a conservative on this issue.
You want to appeal to them in terms of how for example marital rules or history might be maintained and not really altered for those who are in let’s say a “traditional marriage.” How it won’t interrupt the fabric for example of their lives, of the rules that they adhere to. Those kinds of things would be more appealing to them whether or not that might be the most appealing argument to you as a liberal.
The truth is a conservative is more likely to be able to appeal to a liberal using novel new information that is science based and showing certain facts and allowing for it not necessarily to be purely religiously based. That not be the rule system so to speak. By being empathically understanding. And by that I don’t mean sympathetically understanding. I mean truly being able to stand in the other person’s shoes and have some insight into where their brain is directing them and appealing to that argument. So if you are a conservative you will want to appeal with new information because liberals are more novelty seeking potentially. And often science based is a good way to present new information.
Part of what’s difficult in terms of what I’m seeing now is that actually people are tending to double down on their own style and what appeals to their own group of thinkers. And that is increasingly preventing the kind of communication that would be important to our future so that we can’t so to speak cross the aisle because it would require trying on for size the thought pattern of the other group. And that’s hard to do. Let me say that is difficult to do. So if your amygdala is screaming at you, you know, run for the hills or double down and fight it’s hard to say well, let me take a step back and not have a fear based reaction but instead present the science or present the new information.
A good example would be that of gun ownership. If I speak about gun ownership to a liberal group they automatically have thoughts probably about, particularly if they’re in an urban area, crime and danger because statistically that is what they have been privy to. The information has been given to them about how many homicides are committed, who is, you know, dying by gun violence, et cetera.
If I speak about gun ownership to a conservative group they are more likely in their loyal stable way to think about a sportsmanship, hunting with family particularly again if they’re in a rural area. Because that is what they grew up with, that is what has been stable for them, that is the memory that they have about guns. And so you can see how that’s coming from two completely different directions perhaps the same word, gun. And that it is hard to stand in the shoes for example of the other group so that you can come to make decisions about it.
So, for example, the CDC has been prevented from doing any research so that we could have new science about gun violence as a public health issue by actually the conservative political group has said, you know, you can’t do research on this area. We won’t call it a public health issue and therefore you’re prevented from getting dollars and prevented from having research into gun violence per se. And that comes probably from a fear position that if there is any new information that sways opinion we will lose our loyal standing to something that we firmly believe in and harks back to very pleasurable comforting memories from earlier life. So it’s very complicated in a certain kind of way. You know the liberal group is wanting there to be this research not necessarily to take guns away but to say we’d like to see the science to validate whether or not certain things about guns are good for us or not good for us.
The most recent study looking at what is going on in the brain in terms of politics predicted with the greatest value being able to identify a conservative versus a liberal 82.6 percent. And this was a look at brain activity which is different. You put someone in a functional MRI which his different than just taking a picture. It picks up activity in a certain area of the brain. And found that when you have them do a risky behavior and look at their activity in their brain conservatives were more likely to light up in the fright and flight response area, the amygdala, and liberals were more likely to light up in areas that have to do with social awareness.
Again you could see how therefore this difference would inform what comes to the mind of either a liberal or a conservative while either involved in a risky behavior or even something that’s happening external to them but feels like it might impact them in a risky way. And that was actually even more predictive than looking at structure of the brain or what your parents were in terms of liberal versus conservative.
What the difference in brain structure between liberals and conservatives? And where do our political convictions come from: rational deliberation, or biological determinism?
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Starting and running a business takes more than a good idea and the desire to not have a boss.
- Anyone can start a business and be an entrepreneur, but the reality is that most businesses will fail. Building something successful from the ground up takes hard work, passion, intelligence, and a network of people who are equally as smart and passionate as you are. It also requires the ability to accept and learn from your failures.
- In this video, entrepreneurs in various industries including 3D printing, fashion, hygiene, capital investments, aerospace, and biotechnology share what they've learned over the years about relationships, setting and attaining goals, growth, and what happens when things don't go according to plan.
- "People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it," says Miki Agrawal, co-founder of THINX and TUSHY. A key point of Agrawal's advice is that if you can't see yourself in something for 10 years, you shouldn't do it.
After a decade of failed attempts, scientists successfully bounced photons off of a reflector aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, some 240,000 miles from Earth.
- Laser experiments can reveal precisely how far away an object is from Earth.
- For years scientists have been bouncing light off of reflectors on the lunar surface that were installed during the Apollo era, but these reflectors have become less efficient over time.
- The recent success could reveal the cause of the degradation, and also lead to new discoveries about the Moon's evolution.
A close-up photograph of the laser reflecting panel deployed by Apollo 14 astronauts on the Moon in 1971.
NASA<p>The technology isn't quite new. During the Apollo era, astronauts installed on the lunar surface five reflecting panels, each containing at least 100 mirrors that reflect back to whichever direction it's coming from. By bouncing light off these panels, scientists have been able to learn, for example, that the Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year.<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Now that we've been collecting data for 50 years, we can see trends that we wouldn't have been able to see otherwise," Erwan Mazarico, a planetary scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/laser-beams-reflected-between-earth-and-moon-boost-science" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">said</a>. "Laser-ranging science is a long game."</p>
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)
NASA<p>But the long game poses a problem: Over time, the panels on the Moon have become less efficient at bouncing light back to Earth. Some scientists suspect it's because dust, kicked up by micrometeorites, has settled on the surface of the panels, causing them to overheat. And if that's the case, scientists need to know for sure.</p><p>That's where the recent LRO laser experiment comes in. If scientists find discrepancies between the data sent back by the LRO reflector and those on the lunar surface, it could reveal what's causing the lunar reflectors to become less efficient. They could then account for these discrepancies in their models.</p>
Studying the Moon's core<p>More precise laser experiments could also help scientists learn more about the moon's core. By measuring tiny wobbles as the Moon rotates, past laser experiments revealed that the satellite has a fluid core. But inside of that fluid could lie a solid core — one that might've helped to generate the Moon's now-extinct magnetic field.</p><p>However, confirming that hypothesis will require more precise measurements — and the continued success of laser experiments involving the LRO, or reflecting panels installed on the Moon during future missions.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The precision of this one measurement has the potential to refine our understanding of gravity and the evolution of the solar system," <a href="https://science.gsfc.nasa.gov/sed/bio/xiaoli.sun-1" target="_blank">Xiaoli Sun</a>, a Goddard planetary scientist who helped design LRO's reflector, told NASA.</p>
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
What's dead may never die, it seems<p>The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called Brain<em>Ex</em>. Brain<em>Ex </em>is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.</p><p>Brain<em>Ex</em> pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.</p><p>The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if Brain<em>Ex</em> can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.</p><p>As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.</p><p>The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.</p><p>"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told <em><a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/pig-brains-partially-revived-what-it-means-for-medicine-death-ethics/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>.</em></p>
An ethical gray matter<p>Before anyone gets an <em>Island of Dr. Moreau</em> vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.</p><p>The Brain<em>Ex</em> solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness. </p><p>Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death. </p><p>Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?</p><p>"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/science/brain-dead-pigs.html" target="_blank">the <em>New York Times</em></a>. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."</p><p>One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.</p><p>The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01216-4#ref-CR2" target="_blank">told <em>Nature</em></a> that if Brain<em>Ex</em> were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.</p><p>"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.</p><p>It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.</p><p>Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/after-death-youre-aware-that-youve-died-scientists-claim" target="_blank">The distress of a partially alive brain</a>? </p><p>The dilemma is unprecedented.</p>
Setting new boundaries<p>Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, <em>Frankenstein</em>. As Farahany told <em>National Geographic</em>: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have <em>Frankenstein</em>, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."</p><p>She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.</p>
Ever wonder how soft hair can dull a steel razor? So did scientists at MIT.
- Steel is fifty times harder than hair, yet shaving razors dull in a hurry.
- A new study finds much of this is caused by hair cracking razors at points of imperfection.
- The findings may lead to new ways of making razors that last longer.
An extremely magnified image of a razor blade cutting hair.
G. Roscioli<p>Lead author Gianluca Roscioli grew his facial hair out for three days before <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-razors-are-dull-within-weeks-according-science-180975534/" target="_blank">shaving</a>. He then brought his razors into the lab to examine them under an electron microscope. While the team expected to see even dulling on the blade edge, they instead noticed strange C-shaped chips missing. Intrigued, they attached a camera to the microscope so they could record the blade cutting the <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/your-hair-can-crack-steel-when-it-hits-right-spot" target="_blank">hair</a>. At the same time, they investigated the properties of the razors at the microscopic level.</p><p>This apparatus revealed that, when the razor blade hit the hairs at non-perpendicular angles, small cracks formed. These tended to develop in boundary areas between where the steel was harder and where it was softer due to differences in the properties at each location caused by the manufacturing <a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/2251202-we-just-figured-out-why-shaving-soft-hair-blunts-steel-razor-blades/" target="_blank">process</a>. Over time, these cracks grew into chips. While these chips are too small to see with the naked eye, they were large enough to reduce the blade's effectiveness.</p><p>Roscioli told <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-razors-are-dull-within-weeks-according-science-180975534/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">NPR</a>, "The size of the chips are about 1/10 of the diameter of a human hair."</p><p>The chips can be caused by hair of any thickness and appear to be unavoidable in blades with standard imperfections. </p><p>The finding surprised other scientists, who also quickly accepted the explanation. Professor Suveen Mathaudhu of UC Riverside explained to <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/08/06/898577234/cutting-edge-research-shows-how-hair-dulls-razor-blades" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">NPR</a> that he had expected a larger role in the dulling process to be played by corrosion but that the findings made a great deal of sense. Other scientists expressed how impressed they were by the quality of the images and the difficulty of the study. </p>