Monday, September 10, 2007

Left and Right Brains

The LA Times reports on a study of brain differences between liberals and conservatives. They showed people an "M" or a "W", and they had to click a key only when an "M" showed up. M's were much more common than W's. Liberals did better on average than conservatives at holding back from clicking when a W appeared. The implication the Times draws is that conservatives are more prone to making decisions without considering new information.

If this is an accurate report, it makes me wonder how to find a game where conservatives would do better than liberals. My guess might be some test of field dependence, like the embedded figures test. If conservatives are more likely to wrongly fixate on a pattern when asked to look for exceptions, maybe they're more likely to correctly identify a pattern when distracted.

I'd rather this kind of research be used to figure out how people can broaden themselves, than to pigeonhole people or belittle their beliefs as poor brain functioning. Is it possible to train the brain to be more field-dependent or independent at will? Can we learn to adopt a liberal or conservative mindset when one or the other is advantageous? Maybe there's a scientific bias against studies asking people to "do" things mentally and observing the results; since internal "doing" is so hard to describe and to measure. But maybe improving brain scan technology will allow more exploration of the ways people can choose to change the way they go about thinking and emoting.

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