The study, which was published Dec. 23 in the journal Scientific Reports, found that when our political views are challenged, the brain becomes active in regions associated with personal identity, threat response and emotions.
“We think it’s because political beliefs are important to our identity, to our sense of who we are,” said lead author Jonas Kaplan, assistant research professor of psychology at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute. “When the brain considers something to be part of itself, whether it’s a body part or a belief, then it protects it in the same way.”
For the study, researchers looked at 40 healthy adults who considered themselves politically liberal. The participants were asked to read a series of political statements that aligned with their beliefs, such as “abortion should be legal” and “funding for the military should be decreased.”
They were then asked to read a corresponding number of nonpolitical statements, such as “taking a daily multivitamin improves one’s health” and “Albert Einstein was the greatest physicist of the 20th century.”
After reading each statement, the participants were shown evidence challenging the statement. During this activity their brains were scanned in a functional MRI machine.
Not surprisingly, they discovered that people were more flexible when asked to consider the strength of their belief in nonpolitical statements. But when reconsidering their political beliefs, the participants wouldn’t budge.
“Political beliefs are like religious beliefs in the respect that both are part of who you are and important for the social circle to which you belong,” Kaplan said. “To consider an alternative view, you would have to consider an alternative version of yourself.”
After looking at the FMRI scans, researchers found that when the participants were presented with evidence that challenged their political beliefs, increased activity occurred in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex with decreased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex.
The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex is associated with emotion regulation and the orbitofrontal cortex with cognitive flexibility.
Kaplan said he hopes further research could shed light on how to effectively challenge a political view without triggering an emotional response.
Source: Science Daily