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Right. Fine. Brains Differ.

Everyone’s been beaten to boredom, or at least I have, by the news that liberals are better at processing visuals and pressing the right key, an M or a W. (Abstract of article)

Not that there’s anything wrong with the research. The data support the conclusions, they’ve shown quite clearly that brain activity is different in the two groups, yadda, yadda yadda. (You can quibble about how well they’ve distinguished political leanings, or how big a deal pressing “M” or “W” is, but the results are pretty clear-cut.)

But this is boring because it is old news. Very old news.

Just a few years ago, Jost and his co-authors discussed the different orientations of liberals and conservatives, and they have a bibliography that gives a good sense of the dozens upon dozens of articles all pointing the same way over the decades. (Jost et al., 2003, Political conservatism as motivated social cognition, Psychological Bulletin 129: 339-375 (pdf). The only thing that’s different in the work of Amodio et al. is the specific bit of the brain they studied and how they studied it. That’s a valuable contribution, but it is not, in any sense, unexpected.

The fact that conservatives are more cautious became evident with the very first studies done in the 1930s. I mean, hello?, they’re conservatives. The very name means they’re trying to conserve something, to prevent it from falling apart. Why it should ever have been a surprise that this is a fear-based mindset, I can’t imagine.

(Fear really is very useful. As is pain. They keep us out of trouble, when used correctly. There is a place for that kind of thinking, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that just because we’re currently suffering under a bunch of paranoids.)

Any basic psych text will tell you that fear is associated with more mental rigidity, greater willingness to follow authority, and, again, yadda, yadda, yadda.

We know all this.

What we need is the cure.