Are liberals really just a bunch of pro-abortion bleeding heart tree-hugging socialists? Do conservatives really think with their "guts," clinging to guns, religion, and the fantasy of a rich, white America? And where do these ideas come from?
When Chris Mooney wrote "The Republican War on Science" in 2005, he argued that if you want to understand why conservatives deny global warming and evolution, the answer is simple: follow God and follow the money. Being allied with the religious right and corporate America can explain some conservative political behavior, but apparently it's more complex than this.
In his new book, "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality," Mooney argues that we all have fundamental personality traits independent of our ideologies, and these traits can reliably predict whether someone is liberal or conservative in nature.
I spoke to Mooney about these ideas, including how the brain of a republican differs from that of a democrat, independent, or liberal. Click the link below and/or watch the video above to learn more. You can also take the included quiz to see if your personality type is predictive of being a liberal thinker. And don't forget to sound off by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page. Talk nerdy to me!
CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria, here. Are liberals really just a bunch of pro-abortion bleeding heart tree-hugging socialists? Do conservatives really think with their "guts," clinging to guns, religion, and the fantasy of a rich, white America? And where do these ideas come from? Chris Mooney, author of "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality," thinks our personalities (more than our ideologies) shape our political persuasions.
CHRIS MOONEY: Ideology's about a lot more than just conscious ideas about how government should be structured. Ideology seems to be related to more basic personality traits. Traits on which people differ. And personality is the most clear way of distinguishing liberals and conservatives.
CSM: It's a bit counterintuitive, but a new body of research is showing us that leaning right or left has more to do with who we are fundamentally than what we think about certain issues. Social psychologists study who we are by measuring five major personality traits, each existing on a sort of continuum.
CM: If you look at what are called the big five personality traits (it's a well accepted way of studying personality in psychology), then it turns out liberals and conservatives aren't the same on any of the big five traits. But these are the ones where they're most different: Openness to experience is the one that really makes you liberal. it's about wanting to try new things, new ideas, travel to new places. Conscientiousness, the second trait, tends to make you conservative. It's about wanting order and structure in your life, you know being on time, driving to work the same way everyday. Then there's agreeableness, not that big of a difference. Everybody I think knows what being agreeable is. There is extroversion versus introversion, conservatives are a little more extroverted so they probably have more friends than liberals. Then there's stability or the opposite of neuroticism and conservatives are less neurotic than liberals.
CSM: But that makes me wonder, what came first, the chicken or the egg? Is it because of our personalities that we become liberal or conservative? Or, do our political persuasions affect our personality type?
CM: Personality is partly, at least partly, genetic. And there's evidence suggesting that political views are partly genetically inherited, but it's important to be careful because as you go through your life consuming political information, getting to know people who have views similar to yours or views different than yours, we also know that you change your brain. You change your brain with everything you do. But you change your brain with these sorts of experiences, so it's very likely that people are partly kind of inheriting some sort of disposition that's political, but people are also going through life and the course they take changes them as well, and so it's sort of both at the same time.
CSM: Okay, so just what does the political brain look like? Is there really a different neurological profile in a democrat versus a republican?
CM: Liberals are seeming to have a little more grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex. It's a region that's thought to help you detect errors and so if you see an error or doing something wrong, it helps you to stop doing that pattern of behavior and do something a little more different. And so there's a couple studies on that being associated with liberalism. And then with conservatism there's the amygdala, which is sort of the brain's fear and threat center. It keeps you alive.
CSM: The amygdala is a structure in the limbic system, a region of the brain responsible for emotional processing. Interestingly, across all species, the larger your amygdala, the more aggressive you are. It may also be associated with "gut thinking."
STEPHEN COLBERT: Look it up. Now, somebody's gonna say "I did look that up, and it's wrong." Well mister, that's because you looked it up in a book. Next time, try looking it up in your gut.
CM: There's a couple sort of manipulations that they do to people in studies that make them only able to rely upon quick, gut-thinking and then people shift to the political right. One of them is putting people under time pressure. So you know, how much do you associate with the word authority versus civil rights? You have to answer that really fast, 1.5 seconds versus four seconds, people shift conservative in terms of how they feel about those kind of things. And in one study, yes, alcohol inebriation had the same effect as well, shifting both liberals and conservatives to the right.
CSM: Does your personality line up with your political ideology, even when you're sober? What do you think about the political brain? Reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or leave your comments right here on The Huffington Post. Come on, talk nerdy to me!