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Brainwave clue to political persuasion

Researchers report today that by electrical activity in the brain can identify just how committed to Right or Left-wing causes a person is likely to be.

The team has linked political persuasion to a general mechanism for how the brain deals with new information.

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 The study, in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found that those of a conservative disposition can be distinguished by a type of brain activity involved in regulating conflict between a habit and novelty.

Previous psychological work has suggests that, on average, conservatives tend to be more persistent in their judgements and decision-making, while liberals are more likely to be open to trying something new.

David Amodio, of New York University, and colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles, recorded electrical activity from the brain using electroencephalograms in 43 people who rated themselves as either conservative or liberal.

He said: "In our study, liberals tended to be more sensitive and responsive to information that might conflict with their habitual way of thinking, compared with the conservatives."

In contrast, responses of conservatives were more consistent with the "stay the course" approach.

The findings support previous suggestions that political orientation may in part reflect differences in brain processing. However, Dr Amodio said it was not easy to say whether these differences in neural patterns have their origins in nature or nurture.

He said: "Our data, which relate political orientation to the functioning of a very fundamental neurocognitive mechanism, may suggest that liberalism/conservatism reflects our basic biological composition, which would be largely genetically driven.

\’\’But on the other hand, the functioning of this neurocognitive system is malleable, and it\’s possible that people who grew up in a liberal environment also received more \’training\’ in responding to informational conflict and in being adaptive in their thought and behaviour."

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