Written By: Reverend Anton Sawyer
If you are someone that is a fan of scientific research, who has always known those who are die-hard members of the Republican party were the ones who were truly the more emotionally driven of the two political stalwarts, then today’s article will be oh so fulfilling.
During the 21st century, there have been several brilliant minds in the scientific community that knew deep down there was a direct link between the way human brains process information and the way people tend to vote. In their quest to prove this hypothesis, tests have been run using MRIs on various politically-minded subjects with different stimuli applied to see which parts of the brain lit up and showed the most response. After running these experiments, the results showed time and time again the same outcome: those who identify as politically conservative tend to process information with the emotional parts of the brain. These tests and their results will be the focal point of today’s piece.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.
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Before I bring out the tests, their parameters, and their ultimate findings, there are two things I want to make very clear. The first is that you don’t have to have an advanced degree in neuropsychology to understand what the doctors have written in their examinations. After every test, I will include a handy rundown of what all the jargon means in sections called “in layman’s terms.”
This leads to my second point: these tests only focus on three major parts of the brain. These are the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), the amygdala, and the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Though each of these parts of the brain house thousands of complex tasks, for our need of understanding, each has one major contributing factor to how we process, and ultimately react, to external stimuli.
The amygdala is our emotional core. Our amygdala developed well before any other subsection of our gray matter due to it being where our “fight or flight” mechanism is found. Its quick evolution was due to our need for escaping predators thousands of generations ago. Therefore, as a species, humans will often have an emotional response to information before the logical part of our brain kicks in. Speaking of the logical part …
The decision-making part of the human brain is the PFC; this is where logic and reason reside. Whenever we have an idea, our PFC will put on the metaphorical breaks to make us re-evaluate what we’re about to do as a means of protection.
Finally, we have the NAc. This is not only the link between the amygdala and the PFC, it’s also where our reward center lives. Though initially it may seem that this mental bridge is really more of a sidekick to the action, I promise that later on in this article, you will see how it can have a big impact on how those emotional impulses get amped up on steroids during their travels to the PFC.
The Scientific-Snowflake Confirmation
Research published in 2013 in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS ONE, shows that scientists can predict who’s right and who’s left of center politically with 82.9% accuracy. The study matched publicly available party registration records with the names of 82 American participants whose risk-taking behavior during a gambling experiment was monitored by brain scans. The researchers found that liberals and conservatives don’t differ in the risks they do or don’t take, but their brain activity does vary while they’re making decisions. Scans have shown that brain regions associated with risk and uncertainty, such as the fear-processing amygdala, differ in structure in liberals and conservatives. And different architecture means different behavior. Liberals tend to seek out novelty and uncertainty, while conservatives exhibit strong changes in attitude to threatening situations. The former are more willing to accept risk, while the latter tend to have more intense physical reactions to threatening stimuli. Building on this, the new research shows that Democrats exhibited significantly greater activity in the left insula, a region located in the prefrontal cortex associated with social and self-awareness, during the task. Republicans, however, showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala.
In layman’s terms: it means that when given a choice, especially one that holds great risk (like the direction in which American leadership will take the nation), Republicans process the information with their emotions, whereas Democrats process the information with self-awareness and the deduction of logical outcomes.
Given the amount of fire and brimstone that most political talk show hosts use when delivering their message, it seems this deduction pans out. When I was working for Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee as a fundraiser, one of the important lessons we were taught was to keep the donor as emotionally charged as possible. To our managers, the angrier we could make our prospective cash-cows, the wider their wallets would open. It worked then, it works now, and it seems that given the genetic makeup of the average conservative-leaning voter, it will work forever.
Speaking of fire and brimstone …
This Is Your Mind On Christianity
As we found out in a 2016 University of Utah report—which was later published in the journal Social Neuroscience—it seems there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that points to a direct link between faith and emotional conditioning. This emotional conditioning would most definitely have an outcome on the way feelings can be perceived as facts. Combining this with 83% of Republicans identifying as Christian (which includes all denominations of a Christ-based faith) per the 2020 census, it would be near impossible to say that faith/emotional conditioning doesn’t play a role in the decision-making of the flock as a whole. The U of U report along with the paper published in PLOS ONE show all roads leading to the same outcome: making conservatives susceptible to the emotionally driven responses needed to be a good Republican warrior.
In the U of U report, the investigators set out to determine which brain networks are involved in representing spiritual feelings in one group, devout Mormons, by creating an environment that triggered participants to “feel the Spirit.” During fMRI scans, 19 young-adult church members—including seven females and 12 males—performed four tasks in response to content meant to evoke spiritual feelings. The hour-long exam included six minutes of rest; six minutes of audiovisual control (a video detailing their church’s membership statistics); eight minutes of quotations by Mormon and world religious leaders; eight minutes of reading familiar passages from the Book of Mormon; 12 minutes of audiovisual stimuli (church-produced video of family and Biblical scenes, and other religiously evocative content); and another eight minutes of quotations. Researchers collected detailed assessments of the feelings of participants, who, almost universally, reported experiencing the kinds of feelings typical of an intense worship service. They described feelings of peace and physical sensations of warmth. Many were in tears by the end of the scan. In one experiment, participants pushed a button when they felt a peak spiritual feeling while watching church-produced stimuli. Based on fMRI scans, the researchers found that powerful spiritual feelings were reproducibly associated with activation in the nucleus accumbens, the critical brain region for processing rewards. Peak activity occurred about 1-3 seconds before participants pushed the button and were replicated in each of the four tasks. As participants were experiencing peak feelings, their hearts beat faster, and their breathing deepened.
In layman’s terms: Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs, and music. Earlier in the article, I mentioned how the NAc was more than just a bridge and this study proves it. Because the emotional reward center of the brain is also housed in the bridge that sends emotional messages to the logical center, it can beef up the emotional component, thereby helping to override common sense. Because children are conditioned at a very young age to pray in order to feel the spirit, this allows for the PFC to get confused as to the legitimacy of the information provided. With these children being repeatedly told that God is real (even though they can’t logically see him), this allows them to associate the good, warm feelings felt during prayer as a sign of the Holy Spirit, therefore mentally codifying that feelings can be factually real.
Is There Any Hope?
Yes, there is. To say that 100% of the Republican party is completely emotionally driven would be naiveite at its finest. Again, in the first test I used as an example, it was only accurate 82.9% of the time in predicting party affiliation—this means some conservatives fully use their PFC when it comes to decision-making. For them, another test’s results do offer hope.
A 2022 political study published on April 3rd confirmed that exposure to varied news outlets can promote more divergent ways of thinking, as noted by the study's two authors, political scientists David Broockman of the University of California, Berkeley, and Joshua Kalla of Yale. In the study, Broockman and Kalla hypothesized that partisan media engaged in a practice called “partisan coverage filtering,” which is selectively reporting about specific topics in a way that influences viewers’ attitudes and political sentiments. In the study, 763 Fox News viewers—who typically watched about 14 hours of Fox News a week—were paid to watch CNN instead for up to 7 hours per week during September of 2020 and paid extra to take quizzes on the news coverage they watched. The average participant was aged over 50 and the majority of the study sample identified as both 95% white and 92% Republican.
After one month of an altered media diet that included CNN, study participants showed notable changes in attitude. They were five percentage points more likely to believe that people suffer from long COVID, 11 points less likely to say it’s more important for the president to focus on containing violent protesters than on the coronavirus, and 13 points less likely to agree that if Biden were elected, “we’ll see many more police get shot by Black Lives Matter activists,” citing Bloomberg’s analysis of the study. Perhaps most notably of all, study participants were significantly more likely to disagree with the statement “If Donald Trump did something bad, Fox News would discuss it.” As a result, the study authors concluded that “watching CNN instead of Fox thus led participants to conclude that Fox engages in partisan coverage filtering.”
In layman’s terms: If you get out of the echo chamber—the same one that might make you feel so very good emotionally—you are able to gain the perspective that you might not always be correct. This is one of the reasons I listen to hours of conservative talk radio daily. To only feed your own narrative can be toxic. As a species, we can only grow through exposure to ideals different than our own. I’m just glad someone was able to quantify this thought with concrete evidence.
One of my favorite deception tactics to use when I was in the middle of my opioid binge was to expose the faults in others in order to protect my façade. I would always make it a point to show the flaws of whomever I was arguing with in an attempt to shift the narrative of my guilty behaviors. This is exactly the same thing the Republican talking heads are doing. They have replaced the concept of human empathy with being an “emotional snowflake” for whatever cause happens to be the topic, thereby making emotionally-based political decisions out to be a weakness.
Too bad the numbers aren’t on their side …
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