Left, right: The brain science of politics

While researchers are discovering possible physiological and genetic connections that could help account for differences in how liberals and conservatives experience fear or even how those on the left and right think about the issue of immigration, to take one policy example, the academics also say their work has real-world implications and could mark the beginning of important understandings of what’s really behind our seemingly intractable ideological divisions…

So what’s the political takeaway from the study? Hibbing says, “Liberals will say it’s a good thing, you should be influenced by eyes on a screen. Conservatives say we should be strong individuals, we shouldn’t be influenced by people around us. It’s whether you’re empathetic and in touch, or strong and independent.”

Hibbing acknowledged that to some in the political world and beyond, such work “sounds mushy and sloppy.” But taken together, he said, clear trends are emerging.

“The pattern is that conservatives are somewhat more attuned and responsive to negative features of the environment, negative situations, negative stimuli,” he said.