The brain has been studied for thousands of years and thankfully today we can study the brain without doing strictly autopsy. Brain studies usually don’t become political, but for the last decade or so, psychologists and neuroscientists have been comparing conservative and liberal brains.
The Huffington Post had an article last year about a new IQ study comparing the IQ of people who say they are conservative or liberal. Here is the link if you care to read it: Huffington Post Article. The study certainly sounds interesting. There have been others like it and there are theories that there are conservative and liberal brains. Meaning that biology might play a part in a person being conservative or liberal.
I think we need to make sure we are clear about how we use the term “conservative.” Being conservative does not automatically equate to politics. The study seems to refer to political definitions. However, conservatism can mean economics or social behavior. This is important, because being politically conservative does not necessarily mean you behave conservatively.
I think about the conservative mind as traditionally narrow-minded. This means being focused on one aspect of a situation. It’s not necessarily a bad thing in the right context. Sometimes it’s important to focus on one thing at a time. In contrast, I see liberals as being more open-minded. They tend to look at the big picture. When it comes to either focusing on one aspect of a problem or looking at the whole thing, each method has its place.
In economics, conservatism’s strength is in saving for a rainy day and reducing deficits. It makes sense in the individual family context. You want to have a budget that allows for saving and is not spending too much. Liberal economic principles tend to be more focused on stimulative growth from spending and taxation. However, if we talk about spending and taxes, this usually refers to government polices. After all, a family cannot tax a group of people!
It’s not fair to assume that liberals want to raise taxes without cutting spending or balancing the national budget. Nor is it fair to say that conservatives don’t like to spend money. Economic policy has to shift depending on the situation. From what I have studied, and from playing a lot of SimCity, boom times mean it’s safe to cut taxes and unnecessary spending. This can influence growth in good economic times. However, in a slow economy taxes usually go up and spending increases in order to make up for the lack of private sector investment. All in all, economies need someone to spend money in order to function. If no one is spending, the economy stops. Conservative and liberal economic perspectives generally clash in debating who should be spending and how to incite said group to spend.
The labels of conservative and liberal often are missed or have different meanings depending on the context. I want to talk about the conservative and liberal brain. When I say this, I’m not talking about politics or economics for the time being, I’m talking about mental process, how one thinks.
A person with a conservative brain is generally afraid of change or of the unknown. It is important to point out that most of us experience some degree of fear of change or unknown experiences. However, how a person reacts to these fears make a difference. People who react negatively, through hate or violence, could have a lower intelligence than the average person. This is because we tend to fear the unknown, which often creates anxiety, and a person who does not know how to react to these new situations will revert to behavior that is instinctual or how they reacted to a similar situation they experienced in the past. Also, if a person has a negative experience around someone of a particular group, such as a homosexual, that person will tend to associate all homosexuals as being the same. Of course that is where we get stereotypes. We make judgements based on our own history, which can be helpful, but in social situations this can hinder us. Therefore, part of living in a diverse society requires us to remember that one person is not the ambassador to their social, ethnic, sexual orientation, or religious group.
The unknown often makes people uncomfortable, because they are not sure how to react in a new situation. This can be especially true if a person has an unhealthy concept about another group of people. It is the unknown that leads to fear and in turn leads to things such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice. Of course, parents can pass on these fears to their children and religious leaders can preach hate. The good news is that prejudice that is taught can be un-taught.
Ironically, it was my experiences attending a social conservative church that sparked my transformation. I evolved from a social conservative Christian to a progressive liberal leaning atheist. I wonder how much my genetics played a part in this, but I never thought about how intelligence relates to it. I am sure there are plenty of intelligent people who label themselves as “conservative” in the political context. But studies about brains are not dealing with simply politics, they are also dealing with thought process and cognitive function. Perhaps I have a “liberal” brain and I was forcing it to act conservatively. We do know that genes alone do not make the person. Environmental experience, meaning cultural, is an important influence on development. I person can have a genetic trait of alcoholism, for example, but never become an alcoholic. That is because said person can be taught not to drink and choose consistent behaviors that lead way from drinking.
I feel that the lesson from this study is that some people prefer simplicity and structure and become uncomfortable when that consistency is disturbed. Hence the yelling and screaming when debating. Others instead can handle change better and tend to be more fascinated by the unknown as opposed to fear it. It is not so much the labels of “conservative” or “liberal” that is important, it is how the brain functions.
I should note that I am not a licensed psychologist nor am I apart of a research team. I do have a BA in psychology and I am working on a Masters in psychology as well. So, you can judge my credibility based on that.