Commentary: Brain function and political attitudes - political science or science fiction?


Brain function and political attitudes "" political science or science fiction?

Published: February, 2008

You're receiving this issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter with the presidential primary season in full swing. Timely, then, is a discussion of a study published in October 2007 in Nature Neuroscience, which provided evidence of what many Americans believe must be true: "Red" brains function somewhat differently from "blue" brains.

I'm referring, of course, to the color scheme first used in 2000 to differentiate Republican-leaning conservative "red" states from Democratic-leaning liberal "blue" states, which has more recently been extended to describe different political outlooks. It should be no surprise that many neuroscientists are convinced that political orientation originates in the brain. But political scientists, even those who are interested in political psychology, have not focused that much on biology, genetic inheritance, or brain function. The study of political psychology has, for the most part, been limited to separating the influences of early life (for example, your parents' attitudes or those of your childhood community) from later influences (such as historical events or political advertising).

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