A vote in tomorrow’s presidential election could be viewed one of two ways. It’s either the culmination of months of weighing the arguments on countless issues and making a choice based on a commingling of knowledge and personal principle. Or you voted Republican or Democratic because, to paraphrase accidental pundit Lady Gaga, you were born that way. Okay, in the spirit of punditry, the latter is a bit of an oversimplification, but it does reflect the thinking of an emerging field called political neuroscience. Its focus has been on using brain scans to see if people of different political persuasions are different all the way done to their genes. Or put more bluntly, do their brains work differently?
Right brain, left brain
The latest research came out last week, a study at the University of South Carolina that concluded that the brains of self-identified Democrats and Republicans aren’t hard-wired the same. Specifically, the scientists found more neural activity in areas of the brain believed to be linked with broad social connectedness in Democrats (friends, the world at-large) and more activity in areas linked with tight social connectedness in the Republicans (family, country). This was in line with what previous studies have suggested, that people who say they’re Democrats tend to take a more global view on issues while those who call themselves Republicans tend to see things through more of an American filter. But the findings also ran counter to previous research suggesting Democrats are, by biological nature, more empathetic souls than Republicans. Not so, according to the South Carolina study; it’s just that Republicans are more likely to focus their empathy on family members or people they know.