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Do R’s and D’s Have Different Brains? Spoiler Alert: Our Research Has Over 57 Citations.

With the verdict on presidential impeachment condoning the incitement of an insurrection that violently attacked the citadel of American democracy, killing at least five people and injuring dozens more, the question of whether political science is, indeed, an oxymoron is on everyone’s mind.

In this essential moment of mindfulness, would you believe that science wins again?

A noted social scientist supported by reams of academic and clinical research, has explained the difference between Republicans and Democrats in neurologlcal terms. It all comes down to pain. In their political and social behavior, the Democrats are shown as stopping short of inflicting actual harm or pain on their fellow citizens, be it through legislation, regulation, public policy or direct political action.

Unless there is no other alternative, the Democrat will refuse to be the cause of suffering. It’s the Utilitarian philosophy, “One for All and All for One,” Gens Una Sumus (”We are One”), the Hippocratic, not the hypocritical, oath. Pain is where the Dems draw the line.

According to the findings cited below, the same cannot be said of Republicans. The studies reveal that R’s do not shrink from inflicting pain on others, including those who are considerably less fortunate than themselves. Call it a lack of empathy, a self-directed focus, a belief that they should be allowed to prosper whenever and however they choose, unhindered by environmental constraints (such as a public health crisis). If their gains come at the expense of other people, so be it.

For Republicans, the pursuit of happiness is neither an inalienable right nor is it a level playing field. Rather it is a contest to be fought and won. A no compromise, zero-sum game. Since the end of the “first” Civil War, the far right wing of one political party has refused to accept the principle that “All men are created equal.”

Capitalism at any Cost?

It is not the dynamics of market forces that are what is attractive about capitalism to Republicans but their ability to exploit those forces by whatever means necessary: Tax reform that disproportionately benefits the very wealthy … Small business Paycheck Protection loans that go to large equity chains… the elimination of health care, food stamps, a better education, and subsidized housing. For a party that does not share a common knowledge nor belief in the science of evolution, the Republican philosophy is decidedly Darwinian.

An Ancient Parable

The classic King Solomon story reads like a Democrat vs. Republican parable. In a kind of Sophie’s Choice B.C., two women appear before the king claiming to be the mother of an infant. One woman is the baby’s actual mother, the other woman intent on obtaining a child tax credit.

The king must decide which woman is the real mother. He proposes a solution: he will draw a sword and divide the baby in half, a pure 50/50 split. Of course, that would take the life of the child, but math is math. The baby’s real mother surrenders. “You take the baby, all of him,” she implores the other woman who is already nodding her consent to split the child in two and divide the benefit. It is the Democrat who is willing to give up her own child if it means no harm will come to him. This also happens to be an analog to the “Baby Moses” story.

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More than Anecdotal

What is truly scary about this socio-political divide is that the evidence is more than anecdotal.

The psychology study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that Republicans surveyed had a statistically significant higher level of psychopathology related to boldness and meanness than Democrats. The bibliography below is your reference library to take a deep dive into the research.

Participants in the study completed TriPM, a self-report measure that uses 58 questions to evaluate the three traits that, according to the “triarchic model of psychopathy” make up the disorder: boldness, meanness, and disinhibition.

Test-takers ranked how much they related to various statements like “I’ve injured people to see them in pain” and “I have conned people to get money from them” on a four-point scale of true, somewhat true, somewhat false, and false. The results score test-takers on all three traits of the triarchic model.

The researchers found that psychopathic boldness and meanness tended to be higher in Republicans compared to Democrats. Disinhibition was not related to political affiliation.

Mean Girls and Mean Boys

In other words, Republicans were more likely to agree with statements such as “I don’t mind if someone I dislike gets hurt”, “I taunt people just to stir things up,” I can get over things that would traumatize others,” and “I never worry about making a fool of myself with others.”

The researchers also found that boldness was associated with conservative opinions on economic issues, while meanness was associated with conservative opinions on social issues. Boldness was linked to opposition to government spending, immigration, and gay rights. Meanness was associated with opposition to universal healthcare, marijuana legalization, equal pay for women, and affirmative action.

How Many Must Die?

The acute differences in sentiment are laid bare in the Coronavirus pandemic which has taken the lives of half-a-millon people in this country and infected many more millions of Americans. The de-installed Republican establishment not only downplayed the overall impact of the virus from the outset but expressed disdain, if not disgust, for the face coverings and social distancing that have been mandated as the first line of defense against it.

At the ill-fated, super-spreader events, also known as Republican presidential campaign rallies, face masks were scarcely seen, and in so-called “red states,” the notion was flaunted. The irrational politicization of the public health infestation placed millions of people at risk and can only be explained by a pathological lack of concern for others. In the criminal code, it goes beyond criminal neglect and is referred to as depraved indifference.

Ideological differences between political partisans have been attributed to logical, psychological, and social constraints and past scholarship has focused primarily on institutional political processes or individual policy preferences, rather than biological differences in evaluative processes.

However, in the study, “Psychopathic traits and politics: Examining affiliation, support of political issues, and the role of empathy,“ authored by Olivia C. Preston and Joye C. Anestis, the work revealed physiological correlations of the different responses by liberals and conservatives.

At the London Institute, additional research conducted with young adults by neuroscientist Ryoto Kanai and colleagues examined four brain regions: the right amygdala, left insula, right entorhinal cortex, and anterior cingulate (ACC). Incredibly, the brain responses in these sectors indicated measurable differences in liberals and conservatives providing further evidence that political ideology might be connected to differences in cognitive processes.

The longstanding traditional model in political science, which uses the party affiliation of a person’s mother and father to predict the child’s affiliation, is only accurate about 69.5% of the time. The model based on the differences in brain structure distinguishes liberals from conservatives with 71.6% accuracy.

Writing in Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans, Dr. Darren Schreiber, a researcher in neuropolitics at the University of Exeter, has concluded that “The ability to accurately predict party politics using only brain activity suggests that investigating basic neural differences between voters may provide us with more powerful insights than the traditional tools of political science.” The findings also prove to work in reverse: while genetics or parental influence may play a significant role in political party affiliations, being a Republican or Democrat changes how the brain functions.

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Articles from PLoS ONE are provided here courtesy of Public Library of Science
Formats:Darren Schreiber, Greg Fonzo, Alan N. Simmons, Christopher T. Dawes, Taru Flagan, James H. Fowler, Martin P. Paulus. Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (2): e52970 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052970