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Politically polarized brains share an intolerance of uncertainty

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Since the 1950s, political scientists have theorized that political polarization—elevated numbers of “political partisans” who view the world with an ideological bias—is related to an incapability to tolerate uncertainty and a necessity to carry predictable beliefs concerning the world.

But little is thought concerning the organic mechanisms by means of which such biased perceptions come up.

To examine that query, scientists at Brown University measured and in contrast the of dedicated partisans (each liberals and conservatives) as they watched actual political debates and information broadcasts. In a latest research, they discovered that polarization was certainly exacerbated by intolerance of uncertainty: liberals with this trait tended to be extra liberal in how they considered political occasions, conservatives with this trait tended to be extra conservative.

Yet the identical neural mechanisms was at work, pushing the partisans into their completely different ideological camps.

“This is the primary analysis we all know of that has linked intolerance to uncertainty to on either side of the aisle,” mentioned research co-author Oriel FeldmanHall, an assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown. “So whether a person in 2016 was a strongly committed Trump supporter or a strongly committed Clinton supporter, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that an aversion to uncertainty only exacerbates how similarly two conservative brains or two liberal brains respond when consuming political content.”

Jeroen van Baar, research co-author and a former post-doctoral researcher at Brown, mentioned the findings are vital as a result of they present that components aside from political opinions themselves can affect people’ ideological biases.

“We found that polarized perception—ideologically warped perceptions of the same reality—was strongest in people with the lowest tolerance for uncertainty in general,” mentioned van Baar, who’s now a analysis affiliate at Trimbos, the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. “This shows that some of the animosity and misunderstanding we see in society is not due to irreconcilable differences in political beliefs, but instead depends on surprising—and potentially solvable—factors such as the uncertainty people experience in daily life.”

The research was printed on-line within the journal PNAS on Thurs., May 13.

To study whether or not and the way intolerance for uncertainty shapes how political info is processed within the , the researchers recruited 22 dedicated liberals and 22 conservatives. They used fMRI know-how to measure mind exercise whereas contributors watched three sorts of movies: a neutrally worded information section on a politically charged subject, an inflammatory debate section and a non-political nature documentary.

After the viewing session, contributors answered questions on their comprehension and judgment of the movies and accomplished an in depth survey with 5 political and three cognitive questionnaires designed to measure traits like intolerance of uncertainty.

“We used relatively new methods to look at whether a trait like intolerance of uncertainty exacerbates polarization, and to examine if individual differences in patterns of brain activity synchronize to other individuals that hold like-minded beliefs,” FeldmanHall mentioned.

When the researchers analyzed contributors’ mind exercise whereas processing the movies, they discovered that neural responses diverged between liberals and conservatives, reflecting variations within the subjective interpretation of the footage. People who recognized strongly as liberal processed political content material a lot in the identical manner and on the identical time—which the researchers consult with as neural synchrony. Likewise, the brains of those that recognized as conservative have been additionally in sync when processing political content material.

“If you are a politically polarized person, your brain syncs up with like-minded individuals in your party to perceive political information in the same way,” FeldmanHall mentioned.

This polarized notion was exacerbated by the character trait of intolerance of uncertainty. Those contributors—of any ideology—who have been much less tolerant to uncertainty in day by day life (as reported on their survey responses) had extra ideologically polarized mind responses than those that are higher capable of tolerate uncertainty.

“This suggests that aversion to uncertainty governs how the brain processes political information to form black-and-white interpretations of inflammatory political content,” the researchers wrote within the research.

Interestingly, the researchers didn’t observe the polarized notion impact throughout a non-political video and even throughout a video about abortion introduced in a impartial, non-partisan tone.

“This is essential as a result of it implies that ‘liberal and conservative brains’ aren’t simply completely different in some secure manner, like mind construction or fundamental functioning, as different researchers have claimed, however as a substitute that ideological variations in come up from publicity to very specific polarizing materials,” van Baar mentioned. “This suggests that political partisans may be able to see eye to eye—provided we find the right way to communicate.”


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More info:
Jeroen M. van Baar et al, Intolerance of uncertainty modulates brain-to-brain synchrony throughout politically polarized notion, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2022491118

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Brown University


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Politically polarized brains share an intolerance of uncertainty (2021, May 14)
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