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Predicting Party Affiliation

It might be difficult to tell how someone affiliates politically just by looking at them, but an international team of scientists has come close. They’ve found a way to predict a person’s party of preference by how they react to gruesome images – with 95 to 98 percent accuracy. 

Dr. Read Montague is a neuroscientist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. He says this study was inspired by his colleagues, who, after observing twins in Australia, suggested that political ideology is inheritable and can be predicted by compulsory emotional reactions. Although doubtful at first, his skepticism was proved wrong. In the Virginia Tech study, participants were shown positively, negatively, and neutrally emotionally evocative photographs while in a brain scanner – and afterward, they completed a political ideology survey

“It’s 23 items and you rank the degree to which you disagree or agree with words and word phrases – you know,  it might say like ‘abortion’ or ‘big government.’”

And with 95 to 98 percent accuracy, the responses to the disgusting images predicted how a person scored on the survey. Conservatives tended to have more magnified responses than liberals, but Montague says that doesn’t mean left-leaning constituents are totally insensitive to pictures of rotting carcasses and gunky kitchen sinks.

“It’s your brain response that betrays you.”

And here’s where it gets even more interesting – Montague says that those compulsory brain responses could be rooted in ancestral reactions to ancient unsavory situations.

“It suggests that as culture condensed out, you know, a long time ago, that the things that we think of as political attitudes got built on top of these biological imperatives – because these biological imperatives are, you know, protecting yourself against threat.”

So next time you don’t see entirely eye to eye with someone, your ancestors could be partly to blame. 

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