So one conservative neurosurgeon says to the other, "Didja hear why liberals have to work so much harder to win at politics?"
"Why, no, I haven't," says the other conservative neurosurgeon.
"Ha! It's because they have to compensate for having smaller amygdalae!" And they both laugh heartily as they stroll down the hospital corridor.
The above joke doesn't make any sense to the reader right now, of course, but in the light of current research it makes perfect sense. First, let's show the research:
1. Scientists at University College London found that "people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions. On the other hand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life."
Salon.com points out that the researchers were unable to determine if cerebral physiology drives politics or if political beliefs change the brain, but a joint study by Harvard and University of California San Diego indicated that people with [a so-called "liberal gene"] who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average. They reported that it is the crucial interaction of two factors—the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence—that is associated with being more liberal. This held true independent of ethnicity, culture, sex, or age. This might explain in a physiological sense the tendency for urban populations to be more liberal than their rural counterparts.
2. Amygdalae play a very important (though not crucial) role in the processing of emotions, particularly that of fear. In fact, a smaller amygdala volume tends to be associated with decreased fearfulness and enlarged amygdala volume with increased fearfulness. The study shows that there is a direct relationship between amygdala volume and fearfulness in healthy girls, which is particularly robust in girls who have direct family members who suffered from depression.
3. Researchers from Northeastern University and at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have found that part of the brain called the amygdala, a word derived from the Greek for almond, is larger in more sociable people than in those who lead less gregarious lives. The finding, which held for men and women of all ages, is the first to show a link between the size of [the amygdala] and the number and complexity of a person's relationships.