Actor Colin Firth Sponsors Brain Research on Politicans, Credited as Author

Actor Colin Firth is credited as an author in a new study on the brain and politics. The Academy Award winner appeared as guest editor of Britain’s Today show and asked scientist Geraint Rees, from University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, to scan the brains of politicians from Britain’s two leading political parties, Labour and Conservative, to see if there were differences.

Surprise! There were! Curious about the implications, Firth sponsored research for Rees and his team, which included Rees’ colleague Ryota Kanai and Today‘s science editor Tom Feilden, to scan the brains of 90 Labour members and Conservatives. The results, published in Current Biology show that

In a large sample of young adults, we related self-reported political attitudes to gray matter volume using structural MRI. We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala. These results were replicated in an independent sample of additional participants. Our findings extend previous observations that political attitudes reflect differences in self-regulatory conflict monitoring and recognition of emotional faces by showing that such attitudes are reflected in human brain structure.

Studies attribute the anterior cingulate cortex to be involved in error detection, anticipation of tasks, motivation, and modulation of emotional responses. The amygdalae, located on both sides of the brain, perform primary roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. They are also involved in pain/pleasure reward cycles, and memory modulation; larger amygdalae correlate positively with larger social networks and a greater ability to judge social responses by facial expressions. Wikipedia also notes that:

Additional studies have shown a link between the amygdala and schizophrenia, noting that the right amygdala is significantly larger than the left in schizophrenic patients.

At the conclusion of the study, researchers estimated they could predict political leanings of participants with 72% accuracy by looking at brain scans. That’s pretty okay, and takes into account, no doubt, the Labour followers who have large social networks and are good at reading faces, as well as Conservatives who are skilled at error detection and able to modulate their emotions!

It is important to remember the words of the researchers:

Although our data do not determine whether these regions play a causal role in the formation of political attitudes, they converge with previous work to suggest a possible link between brain structure and psychological mechanisms that mediate political attitudes. [emphasis mine]

It is more likely that since the brain is plastic (in the true sense of the word, ie, malleable), different sections of the brain respond to certain stimuli. I hope this study goes even further here in the U.S. and looks at the brains of a wider variety on the political scale, from left wing and right wing conspiracy buffs and hard core liberals, far-rightwingers, neo-cons, and moderates, so we can see what, if any, differences lies on the spectrum of thought.

It is heartening that Firth –who was not put on the study’s author list in the coveted first/last position– sponsored research. I kinda hope more people with money and curiosity (and hopefully, no agenda) will continue to further research in all scientific fields, as government funding for science is at an all time low.

[HT: BBC]

[photo: Colin Firth, screenshot from Academy Award winner The King's Speech]

17 Responses to "Actor Colin Firth Sponsors Brain Research on Politicans, Credited as Author"
Phoenix Woman | Sunday June 5, 2011 11:32 am 1

The right amygdala has long been associated with fear responses, it would seem:

In 2007, a team of French researchers demonstrated that direct stimulation of the amygdala did evoke emotional responses, but that there was a difference between which hemisphere was stimulated. Right amygdala stimulations induced aversive responses, in particular fear and sadness. In contrast, left hemisphere stimulation induced either positive (happiness) or negative emotions (fear, anxiety, sadness).


Elliott | Sunday June 5, 2011 11:40 am 2
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 1

yeah, really explains the pants-pissing after 9-11


Phoenix Woman | Sunday June 5, 2011 11:58 am 3

Oh, and nice pic of Firth as Sherlock Holmes, by the way.

(/sherlockian)


Scarecrow | Sunday June 5, 2011 12:41 pm 4

Wasn’t there a Queen Amygdala in Star Wars, and that’s how we got Darth Vader?


waynec | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:06 pm 5
In response to Scarecrow @ 4

OOOH NOOOOO1
Now I can never watch Star Wars again!
Anyone want to buy a Star Wars Box Set ( well worn) cheap?


Phoenix Woman | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:17 pm 6
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 3

Ha! So that’s actually from The King’s Speech? Could have sworn it was him as Holmes.


Phoenix Woman | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:17 pm 7

(I was wondering who was going to do the first Queen Amygdala joke…)


mzchief | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:24 pm 8

There is amazing brain plasticity in human beings but it’s not the whole picture. A modern example is Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who is characterized not only by intellect, flexible thinking, a very courageous and good heart and refusal to be motivated, clouded or entrapped by fear.


ThingsComeUndone | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:25 pm 9

Studies attribute the anterior cingulate cortex to be involved in error detection, anticipation of tasks, motivation, and modulation of emotional responses. The amygdalae, located on both sides of the brain, perform primary roles in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. They are also involved in pain/pleasure reward cycles, and memory modulation; larger amygdalae correlate positively with larger social networks and a greater ability to judge social responses by facial expressions. Wikipedia also notes that:

Additional studies have shown a link between the amygdala and schizophrenia, noting that the right amygdala is significantly larger than the left in schizophrenic patients.

Emotional Choice voters tend to be GOPers which I always suspected but schizophrenic ? Great way to make me feel like I’m not being Paranoid enough about our situation.
Can we include Blue Dogs and Obama on the GOP side if we do the research here otherwise the Fake Left will lower our averages.
We also now have to seriously take into account Sarah and Michelle as GOP contenders nobody else on their side can whip up negative emotion they can.


ThingsComeUndone | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:29 pm 10

Is the GOP knowingly using fear and lies to inspire fear to rewire people’s brains? A video brainwashing? Its hard to believe Nixon did not have the FBI or CIA sponsor such research.


RevBev | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:31 pm 11
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 6

Great picture…so cute and really smart. Nice;)


john in sacramento | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:33 pm 12
In response to Scarecrow @ 4

ThingsComeUndone | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:36 pm 13

So at best the GOP is better at judging people’s feelings if they see them and relating to them? Hmmm if we put a few ringers in any debate with any GOPer and they make angry faces when some topics are brought up we can get them off their game.


ThingsComeUndone | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:38 pm 14

Studies attribute the anterior cingulate cortex to be involved in error detection, anticipation of tasks, motivation, and modulation of emotional responses.

We on the other hand seem to be better at actually doing the job of leading.


AitchD | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:41 pm 15

“In the future everyone will know everything for 15 minutes” — Andy Warhol’s goldfish.

Almost all goldfish know more than all scientists.

Jackson Lears’ “Same Old Atheism” (critical review of Sam Harris’s oeuvre) in The Nation (May 16) should be required reading but it’s almost book-length.


wendydavis | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:55 pm 16
In response to AitchD @ 15

Along with this key sentence from above:

“Although our data do not determine whether these regions play a causal role in the formation of political attitudes, they converge with previous work to suggest a possible link between brain structure and psychological mechanisms that mediate political attitudes.”


wendydavis | Sunday June 5, 2011 01:56 pm 17

“Although our data do not determine whether these regions play a causal role in the formation of political attitudes, they converge with previous work to suggest a possible link between brain structure and psychological mechanisms that mediate political attitudes.”


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