Science Says: Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?

Liberals are more intellectually nimble than conservatives — no one really wants to say that liberals are smarter — according to study in this week’s journal Nature Neuroscience.

In a simple experiment, New York University neuroscientist David Amodio and colleagues recorded electrical activity from the brain in college students who rated themselves on a scale from “very liberal” to “very conservative.”

Participants were told to strike a keyboard when an M (presumably for Mondale) appeared and refrain from tapping when a W (presumably for you-know-who) appeared. The M was on the screen four times as often as the W, conditioning respondents to strike a key in an, ahem, knee-jerk fashion when they saw a letter.Liberals made fewer mistakes, showing more brain activity, than conservatives when they saw the dreaded W. One might worry that the political content of the letter was influencing the results, but Amodio got the same response when the letter frequency was reversed.

The study confirms previous work on political attitudes and behavior. The paper says:

“Across dozens of behavioral studies, conservatives have been found to be more structured and persistent in their judgments and approaches to decision-making, as indicated by higher average scores on psychological measures of personal needs for order, structure and closure. Liberals, by contrast, report higher tolerance of ambiguity and complexity, and greater openness to new experiences on psychological measures.”

All this leads to an inescapable conclusion about about relative intellectual ability along the political spectrum. But we are too polite to say what that conclusion might be.

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