It’s all in the mind….

No fear

The media are reporting the findings of a study, by scientists at University College London, that suggests people of right-wing views, relative to other people, have a larger area of the brain associated with emotion and fear.  It’s based on a small sample, but the results are not that surprising.  People who are instinctively conservative, wary of change and recognise the fragility of society, tend to support right-wing parties.   I am, though, somewhat concerned at the finding that the same people had a smaller area of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life.  I wonder if I ought to complain, but I’m not sure I have the courage.  Oh well, that’s life.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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21 Responses to It’s all in the mind….

  1. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    How can you take this so lightly? This is surely a threat, a terrible threat of some dire calumny! Something must be done to protect the reputations of people associated with right wing movements. My goodness, it gives me chills to think of people lurking out there conducting ill-intentioned surveys and springing traps to destroy anyone who might ever have a daliance with a far-right party.
    Do you think they cut into our brains while we are asleep?

  2. Carl.H says:

    Considering the links with the Anti Nazi League and the Anti Fascist League that University College London has it`s no big surprise is it.

    Why would someone wary of change support the BNP or EDL ? It would certainly change if they ever, God forbid, took power.

    • djb13 says:

      EDL and the BNP aren’t traditional right-wing groups. The BNP is certainly not right-wing in an economic sense, where they rank as a sort or mid-leftist group (I don’t know about the EDL).

      Also, I don’t feel that one should disparage an idea dependending on who said it; it’s the merits of the argument that they make that matters. I haven’t read this study, but I can only presume it’s been peer-reviewed (that said, I shouldn’t be shocked if the media were parroting a study that hadn’t been peer-reviewed). I’ve also read about American studies in New Scientist that show the same thing.

      • Carl.H says:

        One should also look at the whole. As a measure they are using fear and emotion, two items without a recognised scale. They are saying that people with less fear and emotion are more likely to be left wing, studies also show those with less fear and emotion tend to be psychopathic.

        “The British National Party (BNP) is a far-right political party formed as a splinter group from the National Front”

        “The English Defence League (EDL) is a far-right political group”

      • djb13 says:

        Labelling those groups as ‘far-right’ is an interesting issue of semantics. Essentially, trying to sum up the whole of a party’s philosphy into a single adjectival cluster is difficult. Therefore, we tend to pick on one aspect of a party’s ideology, and identify with that. However, a bit more subtlety is helpful if we want to apply complex findings, like the one Lord Norton raised, to individual circumstance.

      • djb13 says:

        Also, physcopathy is a lack of empathy, not a lack of emotion. I don’t know of any study that shows a link between any sort of mental illness and political ideology.

      • Carl.H says:

        “According to diagnostic criteria, a main hallmark of psychopaths is their lack of emotion”

        As far as the far-right goes I don`t make the labels nor if we looked closely at any one party do I think we can label all members as one.

    • franksummers3ba says:

      Carl H.,
      In my response I tried to carry those ideas out to the direction intended to be linear but really one might argue that the Nazis are only right wing retrospectively. The are national socialists, not royalist monarchists, not libertarians, not largely committed to free markets, not devoted to tradional religion bu rather made up huge parts of a new one. They have almost no rightist characteristics until we make some up for them later I think. BUT IN ADDITION they were close to Japanese. Italian and Spanish movements that were more mixed with real rightist elements. These are lumped together as faascist with them by that fact. On the other hand perhaps at my father’s old school — King’s College University of London they would be more eager to draw those lines. I am not sure…

      • Carl.H says:

        Morning Frank, fact is “left, right and centre” had more to do with class structure initially, the right being the aristocracy (the elitists).

        One can see that the Nazis although called socialists were not, they were elitists led by an aristocracy put into place by Hitler. The Nazi belief`s were rooted in tradition and religion.

        There is however a case where it could be read another way and the question of left, right and centre causes much argument even without the Nazis. What we know or have done as Communism can also be read two ways, what we do know is that it wasn`t pure communism.

        Let`s look at what is known as the British far right the BNP, definitely monarchists, traditionalists that want a return to old values including the Christian Church as far as their economics go I`ve no idea but definitely a right wing organisation you would say…Or would you ?

        I think left, right, centre have become as confused as working, middle and lower in this age and it is easy to misconstrue or throw a spanner in the works. Since we no longer exist in the time of the French Revolution and since in this country at least we switch seats from left to right frequently I think it about time someone coined some new phrases that didn`t cause disharmony just discussing who is what !

  3. djb13 says:

    I don’t know that they connection between conservatism and right-wing ideology can be made quite as clearly as this posting would imply. It’s certainly no shock to me that differing political ideologues will have brains that operate differently. But, there’s a good case to make that at times right-wing parties go against small-c conservative instincts; see the wets in Thatcher’s cabinets as a case-study.

  4. ladytizzy says:

    I detect more than a nod to the Christmas favourite, The Wizard of Oz

  5. Carl.H says:

    Speaking of science, politics and studies this one may go a long way to explaining why politicians consistently ignore evidence in favour of partisan views:

    • djb13 says:

      That study concerns electors, not politicians.

      This would also imply that intense partisanship is a sort of mental illness.

      • Carl.H says:

        “Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides “.

        Surely a “staunch” party member is someone deeply involved in politics ? Politicians are also electors.

      • djb13 says:

        This is one’s view of an elected politician, which is different to a policy issue. The same physcological issues may apply for a politician weighing up two policy proposals as to an elector weighing up two politcians, but it may not. For instance, in this study the researchers showed the subjects two contradictory statements made by a candidate. A policy proposal obviously cannot make a contradictory statement, nor is it immediately obvious to me what the direct analogue would be.

        We also cannot be sure that politicians don’t have fundamentally different brains to electors. Politicians are tightly selected and self-selected group, and it shouldn’t surprise if they are psychologically different to the rest of us.

  6. Carl.H says:

    An experiment has found differences between the brains of progressives and conservatives.

    Head scans of students at University College London, conducted by neuroscientist Geraint Rees, showed a “strong correlation” between thickness in two regions, the amygdala and the anterior cingulate, and political viewpoint.

    Rees said he was “very surprised” by the finding because the experiment was a lighthearted item commissioned by Colin Firth for his guest-editing slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

    The actor has said he no longer supports the Lib Dems, and joked about Nick Clegg: “I think we should have him scanned.”

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