Red brain, blue brain



They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Remember who said that? I’m sure you do. You probably also remember that it’s a certain well-known Republican talking about immigrants from Mexico and Central America. You can tell whether he’s a conservative or a liberal, right?

Do we know anything about his brain?

One of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, recently discussed the question of whether there is a difference in the brains of conservatives and liberals. The image at the top comes from this episode, where two different viewers see the same cat in two very different ways. Host Shankar Vedanta warns us away from easy stereotypes, but it’s hard to avoid picking sides in these brief descriptions of two planned communities:

  • Community #1: The schools would stress patriotism and respect. And it would be a very rules-based educational system. The houses would be fairly similar. The lawns would be very nicely kept and beautifully green and mowed. The town would be quiet, with lots of churches.
  • Community #2: The schools would be based more on experiential kinds of things rather than rote memory. People would prefer older houses with wooden floors rather than wall-to-wall carpeting. They would keep the yards natural – lots of bars and community theaters and foreign films, more of those than churches.

I know which community I would feel comfortable in; do you?

So that’s all hypothetical. But then we get research:

Researchers once went into the living spaces of people – offices and dorm rooms. And they recorded the items that they saw. What was different about the living and work spaces of liberals and conservatives?

The answer might not surprise you:

Conservatives tended to have lots of things like sports memorabilia, whereas liberals tended to have more experiential things – lots of books, lots of CDs, especially diverse CDs, whereas conservatives were more likely to have things that organized their lives – calendars, clothes baskets. Also the researchers suggested the liberals’ rooms were not quite as tidy or as well-lighted as the conservative rooms and offices.

The Hidden Brain episode goes on to connect these averages — and it’s clear that they are only averages, with plenty of exceptions — with findings from brain science in considerable detail. I’ll leave you to listen to it, as you definitely should, and will conclude with two more short clips. You probably won’t know who said which, but think about what the excerpts tell you about the psychology and the politics of the speakers:

  • Speaker #1: We know, in the world that surrounds us, there are terrorists, and there are home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers and rapers and haters and campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers…. [No, it’s not Trump this time.]
  • Speaker #2: We are constantly reinvigorated by immigrants coming to our country. Their commitment and courage and commitment to the American dream, which drew them here in the first place, strengthens the American dream. [This also isn’t Trump, as if you had to be told.]

Categories: Life