Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wired Different

Research done a few years ago surprised scientists by indicated that conservative brains may be hard-wired to respond aggressively to fear and uncertainty.*

Based on how self-described conservatives and liberals responded to certain situation, researchers predicted and discovered anatomical differences in the size of the right amygdala (larger in conservatives) and the anterior cingulate (smaller conservatives).

The amygdala is a primitive part of the brain that is associated with fear processing; people with larger amygdalas are more sensitive to fear. The anterior cingulate monitors and manages uncertainty and conflict; people with a smaller anterior cingulated are less tolerant of fear and uncertainty.


All of this was brought back to mind today when I saw a cartoon posted to Facebook. I’ve seen the cartoon before, “EQUALITY – to a conservative – to a liberal”. Three young boys watching a baseball game over a wood fence. The conservative sees equality as each boy standing on a box of the same size. The tall boy has an exceptionally good view of the game, the medium boy doesn’t have an exception view but he can see the game too, but the short boy can’t see over the fence. But the liberal sees equality differently; she realizes that all of the boys could see the game if the boxes were rearranged.

I thought that this picture said it all, but it doesn’t. Those of us who are liberals have a higher tolerance for uncertainty and are optimistic about outcomes. A self-described conservative posted his version of the equality cartoon. 

Liberals view conservative as boys who could see over the fence just fine without a box to stand on, but just want a better view. Liberals imagine that with a little reorganization everyone will be able to see over the fence. Liberals are unwilling to let the short boy miss the game so that the tall boy can have a better view than he needs.

Conservatives see themselves as tall boys who are too short to see over the fence without a box to stand on. Conservatives view the fence as being too tall for anyone to see over without a box to stand on. Conservatives know they are the tallest boys and all they need is one box to see over the fence. The conservative view of equality serves the tall boy well, but leaves both the medium and the short boy unsatisfied.

There should be one more version of this cartoon.

What if the tall boy needed two boxes to see over the fence?

I am quite certain that a tall conservative boy would gladly beat the short boy to get a second box if that was what he needed to see over the fence. Conservatives only claim to believe in their version of equality because they view themselves as tall enough to see over the fence with just one box. If the conservative needs more than one box he feels completely justified in taking the boxes that he previously said should be equally distributed to others.

This isn't a moralistic observation, it is a physiologic fact that conservatives live in a different world than liberals. Conservatives, with their large amygdalas, are afraid that there is not enough for everyone; they are afraid that if the wealth were equally distributed there would not even be enough for themselves.

But that isn't where it stops, conservatives with their small anterior cingulates are not capable of tolerating the possibility of insufficiency; they do not regulate their aggressive response to fear or uncertainty; and they are not able to think rationally when they are fearful.

Maybe that is why conservatives prefer anecdotal stories, misrepresentations and logical fallacies that justify their views and their behavior over facts and rational conclusions that would lead to better solutions? Maybe conservatives are literally afraid that if they do not acquire more they will be left without enough? Maybe conservatives are fighting for their lives and justifying the price of insufficiency and uncertainty that all others must pay so that a few conservatives can be live in a safe world of sufficiency and certainty?

Maybe we should be working on a pill for that problem?