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"The Political Brain"

The New York Times Magazine's Idea Lab column discusses the idea that the amygdala plays a key role in the creation of emotions such as fear or empathy: If amygdala activity is a reliable indication of emotional response, a fascinating possibility opens up: turning [Dick] Armey's muddled poetry into a testable hypothesis. Do liberals ''think'' with their limbic system more than conservatives do? As it happens, some early research suggests that Armey might have been on to something after all.

As The Times reported not long ago, a team of U.C.L.A. researchers analyzed the neural activity of Republicans and Democrats as they viewed a series of images from campaign ads. And the early data suggested that the most salient predictor of a ''Democrat brain'' was amygdala activity responding to certain images of violence: either the Bush ads that featured shots of a smoldering ground zero or the famous ''Daisy'' ad from Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 campaign that ends with a mushroom cloud. Such brain activity indicates a kind of gut response, operating below the level of conscious control.

Could the U.C.L.A. researchers be creating the political science of the future? Consider this possibility: the scientists do an exhaustive survey and it turns out that liberal brains have, on average, more active amygdalas than conservative ones. It's a plausible outcome that matches some of our stereotypes about liberal values: an aversion to human suffering, an unwillingness to rationalize capital punishment and military force, a fondness for candidates who like to feel our pain. -- Idea Lab: The Political Brain (The New York Times Magazine)