June 2, 2022

Brain scans can predict your politics, Ohio State study finds

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Signatures in the brain revealed by MRI scans can predict political ideology, according to researchers at Ohio State University.

The study used a six-point scale from very liberal to very conservative. When a supercomputer analyzed 174 fMRI brain scans, the researchers found a relationship between the scan results and the participants’ own declarations of political leanings.

“Can we understand political behavior by looking solely at the brain? The answer is a fairly resounding ‘yes,’” study co-author Skyler Cranmer, an Ohio State political science professor, said in a news release. “The results suggest that the biological and neurological roots of political behavior run much deeper than we previously thought.”

The study, published recently in the journal PNAS Nexus, is the largest to date to use functional MRI scans of the brain to study political ideology, the release said.

The researchers didn’t design the eight tasks done by the participants to get a politically biased response.

“But we found the scans from all eight tasks were related to whether they identified as liberals or conservatives,” said study co-author Seo-Eun Yang, now an assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University, who did the work as a doctoral student at Ohio State.

People who took part in the study had tasks to do. One task examined empathy, another memory, and a third task asked them to press a button quickly to win or lose money.

The empathy task was “significantly associated with moderate ideology,” while the reward task could predict political extremism, “those who said they were very conservative or very liberal,” the news release said.

When the researchers combined the brain scan results with age, gender, income and education, they found this predicted a person’s politics even better than looking at their parents’ politics. In political science research, the political ideology of a person’s parents works as a strong predictor.

Specific regions of the brain – the amygdala, inferior frontal gyrus and the hippocampus – were most strongly associated with political affiliation, the study found.

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