People with a more liberal outlook may have a greater sensitivity to cues signalling the need to change a habitual response, suggests an article online in Nature Neuroscience. The study shows that self-rated liberalism is associated with a type of brain activity involved in regulating conflict between a habitual tendency and an alternative response.
Previous psychological work found that, on average, conservatives tend to be more persistent in their judgements and decision-making, while liberals are more likely to be open to new experiences. These differences are related to a process known as conflict monitoring, a mechanism for detecting when a habitual response is not appropriate for a new situation.
David Amodio and colleagues recorded electrical activity from the brain using electroencephalograms (EEGs) in people who rated themselves as either conservative or liberal. During these recordings, subjects had to quickly press a button when they saw a cue, which was presented often enough that the button-press became habitual. However, subjects occasionally saw another, infrequent cue signalling them to withhold their habitual button press. When such response inhibition was required, liberals had significantly greater neural activity originating in the anterior cingulate cortex - known to be involved in conflict monitoring. Liberals were also more successful at withholding their habitual response when they saw the infrequent cue. The findings support previous suggestions that political orientation may in part reflect differences in cognitive mechanisms.
David Amodio, (New York University, NY, USA)
(C) Nature Neuroscience press release.
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