I wondered – why are the political parties called “left” and “right? Does it have something to do with left brain/right brain thinking? Our right brains are the creative side, the left is more methodical, more linear. Turns out, brains do have something to do with it — something I was surprised to find out.

In political speak, it’s the left wing that is considered liberal, rallying against the status quo and creating new social initiatives. And the right wing is considered conservative, protecting traditions. The opposite of how our brains function. I had to explore this…..

Where did the terms for political wings originate?

Wings propel, brains direct. Where is this bird going?

The terms “right wing” and “left wing” were born more than 200 years ago in France. In 1789 during the French Revolution, in trying to resolve how much power King Louis XVI should have, the anti-royalists – let’s do something new – happened to sit on the left side of the presiding officer. The more conservative supporters of the monarchy sat to the right. That’s how the terms “right wing” and “left wing” came into being — because of where people sat.

It had nothing to do with right-brain creativity versus left-brain linear thought. (Well, of course, you might say, no one was doing brain research then.)

But they are now. And doing brain research on the political wings, on political brains.

Liberal and Conservative Brains -The Research

In an article for Discover Magazine, Chris Mooney, after researching the topic, reported that studies showed that liberals and conservatives (people of the left wing and the right wing) have different brains.

Mooney wrote, several “converging studies are showing that liberals tend to have a larger and/or more active anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC—useful in detecting and judging conflict and error—and conservatives are more likely to have an enlarged amygdala, where the development and storage of emotional memories takes place.  More than one study has shown these same results….”

What exactly do these brain functions do?

According to Mooney, “The ACC [bigger in the brains of liberals, or those on the left wing] has a variety of functions in the brain, including error detection, conflict monitoring, and evaluating or weighing different competing choices. It’s also very important for both emotion regulation and cognitive control (often referred to as ‘executive functioning’)—controlling the level of emotional arousal or response to an emotional event (keeping it in check), as to allow your cognitive processes to work most effectively.”

So, liberals, left wingers, sound kind of level-headed. (Nothing about creativity there.)

Interesting that birds need two wings to fly.

They, however, often fight for human rights, to abolish poverty, provide living wages, stand up for the rights of minorities, and for universal health care. Those things seem emotional or empathetic. But according the research on their brains, they’re less emotional than intellectual. So – are their policies perhaps based on cognitive problem solving?

Right Wingers

Conservatives have an enlarged amygdala and the following characteristics, Mooney wrote. “Persons with a larger or more active amygdala tend to have stronger emotional reactions to objects and events, and process information initially through that pathway. They would be more likely swayed towards a belief if it touched them on an emotional level.”

So conservatives, according to this research are more emotional. (Nothing about creativity there either.)

Conservatives promote business interests, less tax burden on the wealthy, smaller government so cities, corporations, states, and individuals can be free from government oversight, a more stringent refuge and immigrant policy. Those things seem “harder,” (rights and money) and like analytical problem solving. But, according to the research, conservatives are more likely to make decisions based on their feelings.

Maybe there is more to who all these people are than meets the eye, or that they themselves even know.

We need both parts of our brains to function effectively as individuals. And, as my grandson said – and he wasn’t being political, he only wanted to be clever  –“If both wings flew together, we could soar.”

By Bojinka Bishop – If you enjoyed this article – or have comments, please share! Also explore stories about people doing great things under the People tab – plus lots of other content by clicking on the navigation bar.

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