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Political liberalism and conservatism differ in provide versus protect orientations, specifically providing for group members’ welfare (political Left) and protecting the group from harm (political Right). These reflect the fundamental psychological distinction between approach and avoidance motivation. Conservatism is avoidance based; it is focused on preventing negative outcomes (e.g., societal losses) and seeks to regulate society via inhibition (restraints) in the interests of social order. Liberalism is approach based; it is focused on advancing positive outcomes (e.g., societal gains) and seeks to regulate society via activation (interventions) in the interests of social justice. As evidenced by specific policy positions, the domains of social regulation and individual autonomy are mirror images for liberals and conservatives. These differences in regulation and motivation suggest fundamental divergences in conceptions of the group and bases of group membership (i.e., societal inclusion), with conservatives focusing on intergroup boundaries and common social identity, and liberals focusing on intragroup variability and interdependence. Implications for society are discussed.




"Threatening situations do indeed seem to increase people’s affinity for politically conservative opinions, leaders, and parties," said New York University psychologist John Jost.

「脅威を受けている状態では、実際、保守的な意見や指導者や政党への親近感が高まる」とNew York Universityの心理学者John Josth言う。

Study co-author Kevin Smith, also a University of Nebraska political scientist, demurred at making such a connection. "Historically speaking, politicians have appealed to the ‘be afraid’ response in the electorate in an attempt to mine votes," he said. "But in terms of going from campaigning to what we did in the laboratory, that’s a large leap."

But even Smith agreed that "people with stronger responses are more sensitive to potential threats in their environment."

研究の共著者であり、University of Nebraskaの政治科学者であるKevin Smithはそのような関連を作ることに意義を唱える。「歴史的に言って、政治家たちは票を掘り起こそうとして、有権者の不安への反応に訴えかけてきた。しかし、選挙運動と、我々の研究の間には、巨大な飛躍がある。」

しかし、Kevin Smithも「強く反応する人々が、自分たちの環境への脅威に、よりセンシティブである」には同意している。

Asked whether the findings imply a fearmongering strategy for conservatives, New York University psychologist David Amodio responded, "Yes. And some people believe that they are actively using this strategy."

それらの知見が恐怖を煽る戦略が保守に有効だということを意味するのか問われて、New York Universityの心理学者David Amodioは「はい。保守が実際にこの戦略を積極的に使っていると考えている人々もいる。」と応えた。

Conservatism, I fear (so to speak), can never be cleansed of this need to instill fear. Whether it’s of black people or of street thugs or of immigrants or of terrorists or of jackbooted government agents, it’s how the conservative mind works. I don’t even think it’s always cynical and manipulative; conservatives often do see enemies under every bed. But that doesn’t mean they’re there, and it most definitely doesn’t mean the rest of us ought to make law and policy based on their nightmares.






Substantial differences exist in the cognitive styles of liberals and conservatives on psychological measures [1]. Variability in political attitudes reflects genetic influences and their interaction with environmental factors [2 and 3]. Recent work has shown a correlation between liberalism and conflict-related activity measured by event-related potentials originating in the anterior cingulate cortex [4]. Here we show that this functional correlate of political attitudes has a counterpart in brain structure. In a large sample of young adults, we related self-reported political attitudes to gray matter volume using structural MRI. We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala. These results were replicated in an independent sample of additional participants. Our findings extend previous observations that political attitudes reflect differences in self-regulatory conflict monitoring [4] and recognition of emotional faces [5] by showing that such attitudes are reflected in human brain structure. Although our data do not determine whether these regions play a causal role in the formation of political attitudes, they converge with previous work [4 and 6] to suggest a possible link between brain structure and psychological mechanisms that mediate political attitudes.


[1] Jost, J.T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A.W., and Sulloway, F.J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychol. Bull. 129, 339?375.
[2] Alford, J., Funk, C., and Hibbing, J. (2005). Are political orientations genetically transmitted? Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 99, 153?167.
[3] Settle, J.E., Dawes, C.T., Christakis, N.A., and Fowler, J.H. (2010). Friendships moderate an association between a dopamine gene variant and political ideology. J. Polit. 72, 1189?1198.
[4] Amodio, D.M., Jost, J.T., Master, S.L., and Yee, C.M. (2007). Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism. Nat. Neurosci. 10, 1246?1247.
[5] Vigil, J.M. (2010). Political leanings vary with facial expression processing and psychosocial functioning. Group Process. Intergroup Relat. 13, 547?558.
このKanai et al.[2011]は、保守よりもリベラルが、不確実性とコンフリクトへの寛容度が高いと示唆している。
For example, our findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty[1, 10]. The amygdala has many functions, including fear processing[11]. Individuals with a larger amygdala are more sensitive to fear[12], which, taken together with our findings, might suggest the testable hypothesis that individuals with larger amagdala are more inclined to integrate conservative views into their belief systems. Similarly, it is striking that conservatives are more sensitive to disgust [13, 14], and the insula is involved in the feeling of disgust [15]. On the other hand, our ?nding of an association between anterior cingulate cortex volume and political attitudes may be linked with tolerance to uncertainty. One of the functions of the anterior cingulate cortex is to monitor uncertainty [16, 17] and con?icts [18]. Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and con?icts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.


[10] Jost, J.T., Napier, J.L., Thorisdottir, H., Gosling, S.D., Palfai, T.P., and Osta?n, B. (2007). Are needs to manage uncertainty and threat associated with political conservatism or ideological extremity? Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 33, 989?1007.
[11] Adolphs, R., Tranel, D., Damasio, H., and Damasio, A.R. (1995). Fear and the human amygdala. J. Neurosci. 15, 5879?5891.
[12] van der Plas, E.A.A., Boes, A.D., Wemmie, J.A., Tranel, D., and Nopoulos, P. (2010). Amygdala volume correlates positively with fearfulness in normal healthy girls. Soc. Cogn. Affect. Neurosci. 5, 424?431.
[13] Hodson, G., and Costello, K. (2007). Interpersonal disgust, ideological orientations, and dehumanization as predictors of intergroup attitudes. Psychol. Sci. 18, 691?698.
[14] Inbar, Y., Pizarro, D.A., and Bloom, P. (2009). Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals. Cogn. Emotion 23, 714?725.
[15] Wicker, B., Keysers, C., Plailly, J., Royet, J.P., Gallese, V., and Rizzolatti, G. (2003). Both of us disgusted in My insula: The common neural basis of seeing and feeling disgust. Neuron 40, 655?664.
[16] Critchley, H.D., Mathias, C.J., and Dolan, R.J. (2001). Neural activity in the human brain relating to uncertainty and arousal during anticipation. Neuron 29, 537?545.
[17] Kennerley, S.W., Walton, M.E., Behrens, T.E., Buckley, M.J., and Rushworth, M.F. (2006). Optimal decision making and the anterior cingulate cortex. Nat. Neurosci. 9, 940?947.
[18] Botvinick, M., Nystrom, L.E., Fissell, K., Carter, C.S., and Cohen, J.D. (1999). Con?ict monitoring versus selection-for-action in anterior cingulate cortex. Nature 402, 179?181.


In this study, the relations among political ideology, exploratory behavior, and the formation of attitudes toward novel stimuli were explored. Participants played a computer game that required learning whether these stimuli produced positive or negative outcomes. Learning was dependent on participants’ decisions to sample novel stimuli and discover the associated valence. Political ideology correlated with exploration during the game, with conservatives sampling fewer targets than liberals. Moreover, more conservative individuals exhibited a stronger learning asymmetry, such that they learned negative stimuli better than positive. Mediational analyses revealed that the differences in learning were due to the extent of exploratory behavior during the game. Relative to liberals, politically conservative individuals pursued a more avoidant strategy to the game, which led to their development of a more pronounced valence asymmetry in learning and attitude formation.



A considerable amount of research indicates that political conservatives and liberals perceive their social worlds very differently, with conservatives perceiving the world more negatively than liberals. Two studies examined how these varying perceptions may develop by exploring the relation between political ideology and attitude formation. In both studies, participants completed an evaluative conditioning paradigm in which novel stimuli were paired with either positive or negative images. Political conservatives were more susceptible to conditioning with negative stimuli than conditioning with positive stimuli as compared to political liberals. Specifically, conservatives were less susceptible to conditioning with positive stimuli than liberals. Conditioning with negative stimuli did not differ by political ideology. These findings suggest fundamental differences in the formation of positive versus negative attitudes between conservatives and liberals.