Natural Political Animals

Generally in America, people don’t talk about religion or politics because it could lead to arguments. We also think politics and religion are personal decisions, not something biological like the color of your eyes. But what if our brain does control whether we lean left or right in the voting booth?

Darren Schreiber is a lecturer in politics at the University of Exeter and has done quite a large amount of research over the last decade into neuropolitics, looking at the brain on politics. He says there is still a long way to go when it comes to nature vs. nurture and the political brain.

“The current evidence from studies of twins suggest that political ideology is about 40% biologically heritable, while affiliation with a particular party has a very small contribution from biology,” he told The Word.

Further research he has done shows that politics might change the brain. These findings match with other findings which show that the brain responds to learning and other influences.

“So, politics seems to both influence biology (e.g. how our brains process the world) and to be influenced by biology,” he said.

Right winger: In politics people who are on the left or right are sometimes called either left wingers or right wingers. It isn’t always polite.

Grammar point: After + gerund: We can use a gerund instead of a subject and verb after the preposition ‘after’. ‘We went to the restaurant after we read a good review,’ can also be ‘We went to the restaurant after reading a good review.’

So does that mean it’s not the crazy right winger’s fault he has such weird beliefs? Not completely. Mr Schreiber was encouraged to study this area after reading an article that described the first uses of brain imaging. The images had shown that learning seemed to change the activity pattern of the brain. An inspiration was research that showed people who knew a lot about national politics “think differently” than people who don’t know much about it. Dr Shreiber wondered if political learning changed brain activity.

Interestingly, the influence works in both directions. Your brain influences your political views, but having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. You may have been very liberal in college, but have mellowed and moved at bit to the right as you’ve gotten older.

Learning from the work Mr Schreiber is doing can have a deeper effect on your daily life. Knowing how the brain influences and is influenced might make your dealings with difficult people a bit easier.

“We all belong simultaneously to hundreds or even thousands of different coalitions (people who wear glasses, people who speak one language or another, people that like comedy movies, etc.)  Since we have so many identities, we can always find a common ground to emphasize, rather than focusing on the differences we have, especially if those differences are impairing other important elements of our lives and relationships,” he said.

And remember, our brains are constantly changing as we learn, grow and gain different life experiences.

Navigating is to create a path for a ship to follow. However we use it metaphorically whenever we are trying to find our way.

“I contend that the shifting coalitions that we have to navigate demand that ‘we are hardwired not to be hardwired,’” Mr Schreiber said. “As a consequence we can and should change our own minds as we learn, and it is possible for others to change their minds as well.”

Original article by Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team 

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Generally in America, people don’t talk about religion or politics because it could lead to arguments. Yet, people’s political beliefs could be natural.

Darren Schreiber is a lecturer in politics at the University of Exeter and has done quite a large amount of research over the last decade into neuropolitics, looking at the brain on politics. He says whether politics is all nature or nurture is not clear.

“The current evidence from studies of twins suggest that political ideology is about 40% biologically heritable, while affiliation with a particular party has a very small contribution from biology,” he told The Word.

His research shows that politics might change the brain. Other researchers have shown that learning can change the brain too. He also found research which showed that people who knew a lot about politics think differently. He wanted to find the connection.

“So, politics seems to both influence biology (e.g. how our brains process the world) and to be influenced by biology,” he said.

When something happens ‘with age’ it means as time goes on or the thing get older. ‘Wine often tastes better with age.’

Interestingly, the influence works in both directions. Your brain influences your political views, but having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. You may have been very liberal in college, but you could have become a little more conservative with age.

Learning from the work Mr Schreiber is doing can have a deeper effect on your daily life. Knowing how the brain influences and is influenced might make your dealings with difficult people a bit easier.

“I contend that the shifting coalitions that we have to navigate demand that ‘we are hardwired not to be hardwired,’” Mr Schreiber said. “As a consequence we can and should change our own minds as we learn, and it is possible for others to change their minds as well.”

Original article by Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team 

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Idiom: A rule of thumb: This is a guideline we use for most situations, but is not a strict rule.

There’s a conversational rule of thumb in American that you should never talk religion or politics. Why? Depending on someone’s beliefs on either topic, the resulting discussion could be controversial, divisive and perhaps conflict-ridden. Religion and politics were always thought to be free-will decisions, not something biological like the color of your eyes. But what if our brain does control whether we lean left or right in the voting booth?

Darren Schreiber is a lecturer in politics at the University of Exeter and has done a considerable amount of research over the last decade into neuropolitics, looking at the brain on politics, so to speak. He says there is still a long way to go when it comes to nature vs. nurture and the political brain.

“The current evidence from studies of twins suggest that political ideology is about 40% biologically heritable, while affiliation with a particular party has a very small contribution from biology,” he told The Word. “The brain imaging studies that I have done with colleagues suggest that politics may also change the brain. This would be consistent with work in other fields showing that the brain responds to environmental processes, such as learning. So, politics seems to both influence biology (e.g. how our brains process the world) and to be influenced by biology.”

Right winger: In politics people who are on the left or right can be called either left wingers or right wingers. It isn’t always polite.

So does that mean it’s not the crazy right winger’s fault he has such weird beliefs? Not completely. One of the first impetuses Mr Schreiber had before he began studying in this field was reading an article that described the first uses of brain imaging and how they had shown that learning seemed to change the activity pattern of the brain. This combined with research that showed people who knew a lot about national politics “think differently” than people who don’t know much about it, made him think what if political learning changed brain activity?

Interestingly though, when it comes to politics, our brains seem to go both ways – some of our political beliefs are biological, but they can be influenced by other aspects of our lives. Your brain influences your political views, but having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. Hence you may have been decidedly liberal in college, but have mellowed and moved a bit to the right as you’ve gotten older.

This idea applies to even ‘non-political’ people, those who don’t follow politics, care about it or even vote.

“All my research into the brain leads me to concur with Aristotle that “man is, by nature, a political animal,” Mr Schreiber said. “Typical humans are extremely good at this mental evaluation of constantly shifting alliances and even when we aren’t using our “political brains” to think about national politics, we are using them to think about the politics of our families, work environments, schools, communities, or even sports teams.”

Learning from the work Mr Schreiber is doing can have a more profound effect on your daily life. Leaving out the political question, knowing what he has found about how our brains work in daily interactions, might make your dealings with more difficult people a bit easier.

“We all belong simultaneously to hundreds or even thousands of different coalitions (people who wear glasses, people who speak one language or another, people that like comedy movies, etc.)  Since we have so many identities, we can always find a common ground to emphasize, rather than focusing on the differences we have, especially if those differences are impairing other important elements of our lives and relationships,” he said. “Since we have this ability to share mental states with others, which is truly extraordinary, we should use it to attempt to understand and empathize with people that have different political views, even if we disagree. We can also use our political brains to think politically, in the sense of being strategic. Our political brains enable us to cooperate even with those that we don’t agree entirely with.”

And remember, our brains are constantly changing as we learn, grow and gain different life experiences. So keeping an open mind is probably the key to happy discourse.

To navigate: Navigating is to create a path for a ship to follow. However we use it metaphorically whenever we are trying to find our way.

“I contend that the shifting coalitions that we have to navigate demand that ‘we are hardwired not to be hardwired,’” Mr Schreiber said. “As a consequence we can and should change our own minds as we learn, and it is possible for others to change their minds as well.”

Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona

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