It’s pretty much common understanding these days that when it comes to politics, the general public is a tough nut to crack. This is especially relevant today with President Donald Trump’s recent win over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, changing the White House from blue back to red for the first time in eight years. The controversial presidential election has been the main focus of the United States for years now and has caused much division within the nation. Why are people so stubborn when politics are involved? The answer, according to neuroscientists at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute, can be found in the brain.
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A new study published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports attempted to answer why many people tend to stick with their political beliefs despite being provided evidence against them. In the study, forty “liberals” were recruited and, through functional MRI, were tested on how they would respond when their beliefs were challenged. Eight political beliefs and eight non-political beliefs were presented, and the participants were asked to rate how strongly they supported a said belief. At the same time, five counterclaims to each statement were shown in an effort to convince participants to refute their earlier inclinations. During the entire experiment, the brains of the participants were scanned and examined to check the different areas that were stimulated.
It was found that when it came to politics, the participants were very reluctant to change their views even when given counter evidence. However, for non-political statements, the counter evidence had a decent effect on changing their beliefs. The study also found that participants that were more resistant when it came to changing their minds had more activity in two brain areas, the amygdala and the insular cortex. The amygdala is responsible for perceiving threats and anxiety while the insular cortex plays a role in processing feelings. Therefore, the researchers concluded that human beings view challenges to their political beliefs as threats, causing them to uphold their beliefs as a result. These findings are important as politics are and will continue to be important to the United States, a nation founded and molded by democracy. According to researcher Gimbel, “Knowing how and which statements may persuade people to change their political beliefs could be key for society’s progress.”