Brain scans remarkably good at predicting political ideology: Study provides evidence of biological roots of partisan views

Brain scans of people taken while they performed various tasks — and even did nothing — accurately predicted whether they were politically conservative or liberal, according to the largest study of its kind.

Researchers found that the “signatures” in the brain revealed by the scans were as accurate at predicting political ideology as the strongest predictor generally used in political science research, which is the ideology of a person’s parents.

“Can we understand political behavior by looking solely at the brain? The answer is a fairly resounding ‘yes,'” said study co-author Skyler Cranmer, the Phillips and Henry Professor of Political Science at The Ohio State University.

“The results suggest that the biological and neurological roots of political behavior run much deeper than we previously thought.”

The study, published recently in the journal PNAS Nexus, is the largest to date to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of the brain to study political ideology.

It is also one of the few to examine functional connectivity in connection to ideology — a whole-brain approach that examined which parts of the brain showed similar patterns of activity at the same time when performing specific tasks, indicating that they are communicating with each other.

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