In a remarkable preliminary study presented at the 2009 Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, scientists at Emory University reported that Republicans were less disgusted by images of torture and human rights violations -- i.e., the infamous Iraq prison photos from Abu Ghraib -- than were Democrats (Hamann et al., 2009). Furthermore, the degree of self-reported arousal while viewing the photos was inversely related to the zealousness of support for Bush and Cheney. The authors speculated that this result may reflect the cognitive dissonance necessary for ardent Republicans to blindly support their cause. In addition, neuroimaging results indicated that for the comparison of Iraq prison photos vs. neutral control photos, the insular cortex was less active in Republicans than in Democrats. This brain region is implicated in interoceptive awareness of bodily states (Craig, 2009), and is responsive to scenes and expressions of disgust (Stark et al., 2007).
These findings are very interesting in light of a 2008 Science article by Oxley et al. (summarized in Conservatives Are Neurotic and Liberals Are Antisocial):
I'm sure you've seen the deluge of articles in the popular press saying that social conservatives are great big scaredy cats when it comes to loud noises and aversive pictures...Or as Oxley et al. explained in their abstract:
Newsweek: Spiders, Maggots, Politics"...in the conservative mind, illegal immigrants may =spiders = gay marriages = maggot-filled wounds = abortion rights = bloodied faces."
...individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War.That paper was not without its problems, however, as described in my earlier blog post. Nonetheless, the new observations of Hamann et al. are striking: rabid Bush/Cheney fans showed reductions in
both subjective and FMRI-based aversive responses to Iraqi prison photos... in part because of cognitive dissonance elicited by the conflict between support for partisan policies and aversion while viewing consequences attributed to those policies.
Craig AD. How do you feel--now? The anterior insula and human awareness. (2009). Nat Rev Neurosci. 10:59-70.
Hamann S, Blagov P, Harenski K, Kilts C, Westen D (2009). Political Party Affiliation Affects fMRI Responses to Emotional Social Stimuli. 15th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping. 230 M-PM.
Oxley DR, Smith KB, Alford JR, Hibbing MV, Miller JL, Scalora M, Hatemi PK, Hibbing JR. (2008). Political attitudes vary with physiological traits. Science 321:1667-70.
Stark R, Zimmermann M, Kagerer S, Schienle A, Walter B, Weygandt M, Vaitl D. (2007). Hemodynamic brain correlates of disgust and fear ratings. Neuroimage 37:663-73.
do ye also to them likewise.
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