Monday, July 26, 2010

Two Brains: Left-Wing and Right-Wing

Remember a few years ago when everyone was talking about the differences between people who were "right-brain" (analytical/objective) and "left-brain" (artistic/subjective) in their worldview? Well, it turns out that it's not that simple. We're actually "whole-brain" people with characteristics from both "sides" of our brain. But a new study at NYU and UCLA has found something really interesting about the differences between "left-wing brains" and "right-wing brains." Yup, it looks like people with different political beliefs might actually be wired differently.

Apparently, people with "left-wing brains" tend to more readily accept new information and change their mind based on that new information. They also navigate nuance, ambiguity, and conflict more easily. These are the folks you want around when you're brainstorming new ideas or looking for donations for groundbreaking scientific research. There are gifts to having a left-wing brain.

Conversely, people with "right-wing brains" are more likely to persist in their beliefs despite new information. They also tend to be more focused on one particular issue or idea. These are the folks you want around when you need to make a decision and stick with it or if you want a more consistent conversation partner. There are gifts to having a right-wing brain, too.

Obviously, real life is too complex for these two simplistic options. Most people fall somewhere along the spectrum between these two poles. But it's still interesting to look at the trends. If we're all just wired differently, then it seems like we all need to be more understanding of people who are different than us. It doesn't always have to be a good-vs.-bad type of thing. Right-wing brains just operate different than left-wing brains. Perhaps, we need each other in order to be more effective employees, voters, family members, etc. We can help balance each other out. And perhaps all this "can't we all just get along" stuff is part of having a "left-wing brain"!

What do you think about this study? Do the results seem accurate to you? How do you think the results can help us to work together better?

3 comments:

  1. Seems like, as a left-wing brain person, it's hard to not pass a value judgement on the right-wing brain person, at least according to your description.

    "accept new information and change their mind based on that new information. They also navigate nuance, ambiguity, and conflict more easily." = enlightenment / progressive values, creative, progressive, humanist(?)

    "persist in their beliefs despite new information. They also tend to be more focused on one particular issue or idea." = conservative / oppressive(?) values, stifle debate, reject 'reason'...

    it's easy to associate one 'type of brain' with a certain brand of social ills...

    right-wing brain people would prolly talk about relativism and morals and foundations of society, i guess, though, so maybe it does even out?

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  2. If we are wired differently, that could explain why we are more comfortable with people who are "like-minded," and why it is so frustrating when others don't see what I think should be perfectly clear. I think it is important, though (speaking as a left-wing brain)to be able to listen to those on the other side of the spectrum. It really does take all kinds of people to make a society work.

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  3. This is ridiculous... an excuse. "It's okay to be a horrible homophobic racist, you just can't help it!"

    Brain work is always messy work; always an attempt to give humans an out, always a try to go "hey, we know how people work now". It's related to the fact that the science of people isn't hard science, which causes the people sciences to be looked down upon by the "real" scientists.

    So anything like this, that reduces people to less complex figures, is highly seized upon. This'll probably be a fad, just like the left/right brain thing was; if anything, this is just a new, slightly updated version of that same bizarre idea.

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