Basics of social cognitive and affective neuroscience.
XXIV. Conservatives and liberals

Authors‘ workplace: Oddělení patologie a molekulární medicíny Národní referenční laboratoř prionových chorob Thomayerova nemocnice, Praha Primář: MUDr. František Koukolík DrSc
Published in: Prakt. Lék. 2012; 92(10-12): 535-539
Category: Editorial


Conservatives and liberals have different functional brain architecture, different physiological responses to stimuli, and activate different brain networks when confronted with similar situations. Genetics influence political attitudes during early adulthood and beyond. When faced with conflict, liberals are more likely than conservatives to alter their habitual response when cues indicate it is necessary. In comparison with liberals, conservatives have stronger reactions to threatening images and noises, spend more time looking at unpleasant images, whereas liberals spend more time looking at pleasant images. Liberals have more tolerance to uncertainty and a larger anterior cingular cortex, conservatives have more sensitivity to fear and have a larger right amygdala. Reliance on quick and “low effort” thought processes yields conservative ideologies, while effortful and deliberated reasoning yields liberal ideologies. Conservatives have stronger motivations than liberals to preserve purity and react more strongly than liberals to disgusting images. Conservatives are less open to new experiences and learn better form negative stimuli than positive stimuli. Political conservatism could be understood as a motivated social cognition with an evolutionary background. Some caution with the transfer of these results into Czech conditions is essential: American conservatives and liberals are similar but not identical to the Czech political right and left.

Key words:
conservatism, liberalism, brain, political decision


1.Amodio, D. M., Jost, J. T., Master, S. L., et al.: Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism. Nat Neurosci 2007; 10, p. 1246–1247.

2. Boyd R, Richerson PJ. Transmission coupling mechanisms: cultural group selection. Phil Trans R Soc B 2010; 365, p. 3787–3795.

3. Carney DR, Jost JT, Bowling SD, et al.: The secret lives of liberals and conservatives: personality profiles, interaction styles, and the things they leave behind. Polit Psychol 2008; 29, p. 807–840.

4. Dodd, M. D., Hibbing, J. R., Smith, K. B.: The politics of attention: gaze cueing effects are moderated by political temperament. Atten Percept Psychophys. 2011; 73, p. 24–29.

5. Dodd, M. D., Balzer, A., Jacobs, C. M., et al.: The political left rolls with the good and the political right confronts the bad: connecting physiology and cognition to preferences. Phil Trans R Soc B 2012; 367, p. 640–649.

6. Eidelman, S., Crandall, Ch. S., Goodman, J. A., et al.: Low-effort thought promotes political conservatism. Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin 2012; 38, p. 808–820.

7. Fazzio, R. H., Eser, J. R., Shook, N. J.: Attitude formation through exploration: valence asymmetries. J Pers Soc Psychol 2004; 87, p. 617–645.

8. Gray, J.: The psychophysiological basis of introversion- extraversion: a modification of Eysenck’s theory. In: The biological bases of individual behavior (eds V. D. Nebylitsyn & J. A. Gray), pp. 182–205. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1972.

9. Green, A. E., Munafo, M. R., DeYoung, C. G., et al.: Using genetic data in cognitive neuroscience: from growing pains to genuine insights. Nat Rev Neurosci 2008; 9, p. 710–720.

10. Harrison, N. A., Gray, M. A., Gianaors, P. J., et al.: The embodiment of emotional feelings in the brain. J Neurosci 2010; 30, p. 12878–12884.

11. Hatemi, P. K., Funk, C. L., Medland, S. E., et al.: Genetic and environmental transmission of political attitudes over life time. J Polit 2009; 71, p. 1141–1156.

12. Helzer, E. G., Pizarro, D. A.: Dirty liberals!: reminders of physical cleanliness influence moral and political attitudes. Psychol Sci 2011; 22(4): p. 517–522.

13. Henrich, J., McElreath, R.: Dual inheritance theory: the evolution of human cultural capacities and cultural evolution. In: R. Dunbar and L. Barrett, (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, Ch. 38. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press, 2007.

14. Jost, J. T., Laser, J., Kruglanski, A. W., et al.: Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychol Bull 2003; 129, p. 339–375.

15. Jost, J. T., Laser, J., Kruglanski, A. W., et al.: Exceptions that prove the rule – using the theory of motivated cognition to account for ideological incongruities and political anomalies: reply to Greenberg and Jonas (2003). Psychol Bull 2003; 129, p. 383–393.

16. Jost, J. T., Naper, J. L., Thorisdottir, H., et al.: Are needs to manage uncertainty and threat associated with political conservatism or ideological extremity? Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2007; 33, p. 989–1007.

17. Jost, J. T., Nosek, B. A., Bowling, S. D.: Ideology: its resurgence in social, personality, and political psychology. Perspect Psychol Sci 2008; 3, p. 126–136.

18. Jost, J. T., Anodko, D. M.: Political ideology as motivated social cognition: behavioral and neuroscientific evidence. Motiv Emot 2012, 36, p. 55–64.

19. Kerlinger, F. M.: Liberalism and conservatism: The nature and structure of social attitudes. Erlbaum, Hilsdale, 1984.

20. Kanai, R., Feilden, T., Firth, C., et al.: Political orientations are correlated with brain structure in young adults. Curr Biol 2011; 21, p. 677–680.

21. Koukolík, F.: Evoluce a evoluční teorie pro lékaře IX. Evoluční psychologie. Prakt. lék. 2010, 90, s. 511–514.

22. Koukolík, F.: Mocenská posedlost. Praha: Karolinum, 2010.

23. Koukolík, F.: Zvíře politické. Praha: Galén, 2012.

24. Koukolík, F.: Nejkrásnější ze všech bohů. Praha: Karolinum, 2012.

25. McElreath, R., Henrich, J.: Dual inheritance theory: the evolution of human cultural capacities and cultural evolution. In R. Dunbar and L. Barrett (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007.

26. Medland, S., Hatemi, P.: Political science, biometric theory, and twin studies: A

methodological introduction. Polit Anal 2009; 17, p. 191–214.

27. Mitchell, J. P. Contributions of functional neuroimaging to the study of social cognition. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2008; 17, p. 142–146.

28. Naper, J. L., Jost, J. T.: Why are conservative happier than liberals? Psychol Sci 2008; 19, p. 565–572

29. Oxley DR, Smith KB Alford JR, et al.: Political attitudes vary with physiological traits. Science 2008; 321, p. 1667-1670.

30. Richerson P, Boyd. R. Not by genes alone: how culture transformed human evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

31. Sidanius J, Pratto F. Social dominance: an intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

32. Shook NJ, Fazio RH. Political ideology, exploration of novel stimuli, and attitude formation. J Exp Soc Psychol 2009; 45, p. 995-998.

33. Smith KB, Oxley D, Hibbing MV, et al.: Disgust sensitivity and the neurophysiology of left-right political orientations. PLoS ONE 6(10): e25552. doi:10.1371/journal.:pone.0025552.

34. Vigil JM. Political learning vary with facial expression processing and psychosocial functioning. Group Process Intergroup Relat 2010; 13, p. 547-558.

35. Williamson PC, Allman J. The human illnesses. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

General practitioner for children and adolescents General practitioner for adults
Forgotten password

Don‘t have an account?  Create new account

Forgotten password

Enter the email address that you registered with. We will send you instructions on how to set a new password.


Don‘t have an account?  Create new account