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Thursday, April 05, 2018

The Science of Perspective

Recently I wrote about how we might need to be ... not less focused on our own arguments, but, additionally, more aware and sensitive to the emotional sensibilities of those with whom we are interacting. I pointed out that a common view is that conservatives tend toward logical arguments while liberals toward more emotional ones. I pointed out that "liberals would disagree" and said "I'm not entirely sure it's true", but, of course, it didn't go unnoticed by liberals and they wanted to point out that liberal and conservative brains were different. So I looked into it.

In a Scientific American article from 2012, "psychological insights" are offered regarding the brains of liberals and conservatives. "They are different," the article says. How? Well, apparently conservatives are "fundamentally more anxious than liberals." The outcome is that they desire structure, stability, and clear, comprehensive answers. Several articles said that researches found that a simple MRI could tell with something like 70% accuracy whether you were conservative or liberal based just on the brain structure. Interestingly, they report that physiological differences in the brains of liberals versus conservatives means that "Conservative brains are more active in declarative and episodic fact-based memory and negative emotions like fear" while "Liberal brains are more active in terms of emotional awareness and empathy." So the data says that conservative brains require more declarative and comprehensive answers and liberals are more emotional and empathetic. Which is what conservatives have said about liberals for a long time -- more emotional, less logical.

I was intrigued by this claim that conservatives were more fearful. The perception and sense of it seemed to be that this was a bad thing. The Scientific American article pointed out that researchers "found that asking Republicans to imagine that they possessed superpowers and were impermeable to injury made them more liberal." Interesting, but ... we aren't superbeings and we aren't impervious to injury. That is, while Superman doesn't need to fear jumping off a building, we do. In fact, if we do not we are crazy at best and dead at worst. My point is that there are things that wisdom would urge us to fear. Beyond that, Scripture is clear that fear is actually a good thing when properly applied. In the negative, for instance, the Bible warns against the failure to fear God (e.g., Psa 36:1; Rom 3:18; etc.) and, in the positive, fearing God is a good thing (e.g., Deut 6:24; Psa 112:1; Prov 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 1 Peter 2:17; etc.). And not just the fear of the Lord. Paul urges the church at Philippi to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil 2:12) Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing, a beneficial thing. It can save your life.

Now, I don't know what I think about all this stuff about brain differences. The researchers themselves don't know if it's cause or effect. Are the differences in viewpoint because the brain was different, or are the brain differences caused by the different viewpoint? They admit they don't know. Further, it was abundantly clear as I read up on these things that the reports were written from a liberal perspective. "We are the brave ones, going forth to better things, while those foolish conservatives try to hold us back." And the article from made it clear that "what is true for a group on average is not necessarily true for an individual." Something to keep in mind. So I'm not sure of the validity of the studies. I am sure, however, that the perception that fear is always bad is not always right. I am sure, for instance, that urging people to ignore God and His commands is extremely foolhardy (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-10). I've said before that a slippery slope argument is not a fallacy if it actually happens. In the same way, being afraid of something that is certainly possible and certainly dangerous is not a foolish thing. Ignoring it is.

I'm equally sure that liberals who look at the data I've looked at will conclude that conservatives are "less" and liberals are superior and the more reasonable one is the liberal. Even though that's not what the reports seemed to say.

1 comment:

Bob said...

sometimes i feel like a lesbian trapped in a mans body... when i am in my conservative mind i feel afraid that i have not enough empathy for my fellow man. when i am in more of a liberal mindset, i am concerned that i am not using my insipid prefrontal lobe enough. to find balance i just hold my breath to see which mind set will prevail, and save me from myself.
for safety sake i usually only do this in the company of strangers. the great ayatollah once said " a mine is a terrible thing to waste" unless of course your selling used rubber walrus covers then all bets are off...