W and M

From the “why do these people get grants when I can’t?” file we get this:

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

Boy, those liberals sure have superior brains! Until you read about how the study was done.

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from “very liberal” to “very conservative.” They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

Are you kidding me? We’re supposed to extrapolate from this to how people think about complex issues like taxes and welfare? Politics are not generally decided in a split second. (And to be fair, the authors caution against an overly, um, liberal interpretation of their results).

I can think of an alternative explanation. Liberals have such tiny brains that they didn’t get terminally bored with the experiment.

In seriousness, this brain flexibility could explain a lot of the “nuanced” views of liberals. Wealth is bad unless it’s mine; sexual harassment is evil unless it’s a Democrat; unilateral war is bad unless it’s Clinton. Do we finally have proof that ther liberal mind can hold completely opposite views at the same time? And I wonder what would happen if you plugged Mitt Romney into one of those things? it would probably explode.

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