Okay, I exaggerate a little. Conservatives are not really brain-dead; their brains just don’t work as well as Liberal brains when it comes to dealing with change.
Researchers conducted an experiment involving college students whose political ideology ranged from “very liberal” to “very conservative”. The students were instructed to tap a key on a keyboard whenever the letter M appeared on a computer screen, but to not tap the key when the letter W appeared (psychologists call this a Go/No-Go task). The letter M was programmed to appear four times as often as the letter W--thus conditioning the subjects to tap the keyboard when either letter appeared on the computer screen. During the experiment, an electroencephalograph monitored the part of the brain that is known to detect conflicts between a habitual response (in this case--tapping a key) and a more appropriate response (not tapping a key).
This simple experiment demonstrated a dramatic difference between students identifying themselves as liberals compared to those describing themselves as conservative. The data showed that liberals were 2.2 times more accurate in completing the task, and they were 4.9 times more likely to exhibit brain activity in the area associated with conflict whenever the letter W appeared.
In other words, when confronted with change, conservatives responded correctly only half as often as liberals. More importantly, conservative brains failed to respond to a change five times more often than liberal brains.
I would consider this to be a problem, unless there is some advantage to not being able to recognize and respond to changes in an ever-changing world. Further research needs to be done to determine if this phenomenon is due to genetic variations in the brain; or is the result of brain damage caused by listening to too much right-wing talk radio.
· “You turn the AM on and there’s Rush, or Savage, or another of the army of right-wing radio talk show hosts. You may not be listening hard, just working, driving, doing busywork or the laundry. Yet if you listen day after day, year after year, your brain will begin to change. ...Words, even those heard casually and listened to incidentally, activate frames--structures of ideas that are physically realized in the brain. The more the words are heard, the more the frames are activated in the brain, and stronger their synapses get--until the frames are there permanently. ...All this is normal. It is how words work. And the right-wing message machine has found a way to take advantage of it - activating, as it were, a conservative system of thought. ...One diatribe after another, the crucial facts left out or lied about, day after day, city after city. It has an effect.”--George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley, The San Francisco Chronicle, 4/19/09
Further studies of the brain may lead to a deeper understanding of some of the other mental problems commonly observed among conservatives--like their approach to problem solving. For example:
After inheriting the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, the Obama Administration sought the advice from a wide range of economists to come up with a plan to deal with the crisis. Congressional Republicans took a different approach to the problem. They began with the answer (as they always do), and then the problem becomes: how to justify their answer.
Rather than seeking unbiased opinions on what to do about the economic crisis, Republicans were only interested in opinions that disagreed with President Obama’s solution:
· “ATTENTION ECONOMISTS: ARE YOU A STIMULUS SPENDING SKEPTIC? ...House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is compiling a list of credentialed American economists who would like to add their voices to the list of stimulus spending skeptics.”--from the Office of the House Republican Leader website.
No wonder they are called “The Party of No”.
(Authors note: I use the words Republican and Conservative interchangeably--since the Republican Party became a tool of its right-wing conservatives.)
Conservative brains also demonstrate a limited ability to recognize hypocrisy.