Tag: politics

Although I had intended to continue the series on the neuroscience of education, when I sat down to write a column a day before the United States votes for a new president, many new senate members, and hundreds of ballot measures, I’ve found that this election has truly consumed us all. So instead, today’s column will be dedicated to the young realm of neuropolitics – and what ramifications neuroscience may have for tomorrow’s vote.

Although contentious elections are nothing new, this cycle certainly feels more polarizing than years past. Many people on both sides are in disbelief as to how supporters of the opposing candidate could possibly overlook the horrible things they’ve said or done. Both sides are utterly confident that not only are they correct, but that all the facts support their position. Here is where fMRI has an answer.

In one of the first studies of its kind right before the 2004 elections, 30 self-identified ‘strong’ Democrats and 30 Republicans reviewed John Kerry and George W. Bush making self-contradictory statements while having their brains imaged. In an experience familiar to anyone who has tried this tactic against a member of the opposing party, the participants were critical of the hypocrisy in the opposing candidate while letting their own candidate off easy. While that result is predictable, the fMRI results were not at all.

The participants achieved this feat of mental gymnastics by quieting down the part of their brains necessary for impartial reasoning like the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and instead lighting up emotional circuitry such as the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula, which will all be important later. Specifically, an area of the brain called the basal ganglia lit up, which is, among other tasks, responsible for rewarding selective behaviors with dopamine. Effectively, partisan brains were triggering dopamine rushes for ignoring the issues in their own candidates’ statements and criticizing their opponents. Once entrenched, it seems very difficult to combat confirmation bias by rational arguments when the ‘rational argument’ part of the brain is offline during these discussions.

The differences that divide us seem to run deeper than confirmation bias. A growing body of research shows some fundamental wiring differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives. One study was actually able to use brain regions of interest from an fMRI to determine political affiliation with 83% accuracy, which is over 10% higher than the next-best factor of parent’s ideology. In general, a conservative brain will more strongly react to disgust and react with more emotionality to uncertain concepts or events, thanks to a larger and more active insula and right amygdala.

Liberals, on the other hand, are less fearful of new stimuli and less reactive to negative events, and more likely to adapt to changes in established patterns. Some of these effects can be attributed to their larger and more reactive anterior cingulate cortex, which has long been known to monitor and mediate conflicting information. From the psychology side of things, personality data shows that conservatives value loyalty, stability, and are both risk- and change-averse.

Meanwhile, liberals are more likely to change their opinions and base decision-making on new information, specifically the kind of fact-heavy information that activates the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Without placing a value judgement on either ideology, it seems that biological differences in how people process and respond to information aligns with ideological differences.

Of course it’s important to keep in mind that the brain is a highly plastic structure, so there’s a classic chicken-and-the-egg problem in play here. Twin studies, long the gold standard for measuring genetic influence, attribute somewhere between 40 to 60% of political preference up to genetics, as manifested by differences in brain structure. It’s also possible, even likely, that slight anatomical differences might snowball into bigger ones if those neurological pathways are strengthened by continued exposure to politically charged information.

As with much of neuroscience, it’s sometimes unnerving to think about how our decisions are so frequently based on the activation of subcortical structures, not conscious thought. While we may find it difficult how someone could possibly vote for the other candidate, perhaps political neuroscience can contribute some understanding to the underlying motivations that determine political choices. So as we decide on a new president this Tuesday, give a thought to those scientists trying to figure out what’s going on in your brain while you’re making that oh-so-important choice.  

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Photo Courtesy of Bradley Davison (CC ’17)

I’ve seen a lot of uproar on Facebook the past few days in response to an article recently published in the Columbia Daily Spectator. The intent of the article, as it seems to me, is to cast a light on the many different points of view held by our peers that feel “privileged, and therefore ineligible to speak” on issues surrounding race relations. Furthermore, the author posits that we, the Columbia community, have failed to realize the “colorblind society envisioned by Dr. King.” I believe the Martin Luther King Jr.  quotes have been discussed thoroughly. I want to dig at a more personal issue.

The grand “zenith” of this failure for MLK’s Dream is an exchange about attractiveness on a Facebook page. Let’s just start with that. [A: Is he cute? B: No, he’s white]

Consider this: “You’re really cute for a black girl.”

This is something that I have heard over and over again in the course of my life. In almost all of my classrooms before starting college, I was the only student with my hair in an unruly puff on the back of my head – the only one that was brown. As I grew older, was placed in advanced classes, achieved great success, I would remain the only one.

Having little exposure to people of color beyond those of my own family, I began to focus on how I could be similar to the white people around me and distance myself from the non-erudite image of “being black”. You know – the “black as a state of mind” thing – dress “like you’re black” – talk “like you’re black”. I observed that my academic pursuits aligned with the career paths of the white side of my family. My appearance, however, would never be similar. I spent hours each day making sure my hair was pin-straight, I spent hours wishing my thighs would be smaller so I wouldn’t look “ghetto”. I did anything and everything I could think of to shake that qualifier: “for a black girl.”

So, here’s the take-away: that anonymous person who made a remark about an unidentifiable white man’s attractiveness should not affect him personally – because the white man has not been made to believe his whole life that he is a sub-class of something better. Moreover, these qualified appraisals of beauty are most often obliviously meant as compliments!

Yet….

“I don’t know why he’d want to see a black girl. She’s not a pretty blonde girl like me.”

This comment has stuck with me for three years and is a reminder that these insecurities that I’d struggled with weren’t merely of my mind’s own creation.

I whole-heartedly agree with the article’s position that a transparent picture of the ugliness in this country and prejudices within ourselves is the only way to actually change anything. I disagree with her assertion that there is a color-coded right to speak.

Open discourse is essential for progress! WHEN A POC* RESPONDS TO SOMETHING YOU SAID, JUST LISTEN AND DON’T BE SO DEFENSIVE. This isn’t about taking away anybody’s right to speak; it’s about giving some other marginalized voices a chance to JOIN THE CONVERSATION.

I can’t speak for other people that look like me any more than I can speak for any other human, but I think we all just want to be happy and show who we are – the “content of our character” – rather than having our lives reduced to proving to the world what we’re not (pushing back against the judgment based on skin color).

* Person of color

Jacie Goudy is a third year student in Columbia College (2018) double majoring in History and Political Science. She is especially interested in the comparative study of social factors on the political economy between Eastern and Western societies.

 The Lion is the only campus publication with an open-submissions policy. To respond to this op-ed or to submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

Several days before the Nobel Prize Committee awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the current Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, a referendum took place in Colombia that rejected the peace deal made by Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This result put the Nobel Prize Committee in an awkward position, as the committee awarded Santos “for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end,” yet the millstone on the peace journey was just rejected by Colombia’s population. Though people rejected the peace deal mostly because they were unsatisfied with the conditions set in the peace deal, such as releasing FARC officers who are currently in custody, the rejection still reveals the immaturity of peace in Colombia and poses questions on Santos’ legitimacy of the award.

Besides the awkwardness from the referendum rejection, people also question whether Santos’ contribution is significant enough to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The conflict between Colombia government and FARC could be traced back to 1960s, when the left-wing revolutionary force was established in the wave of communism in Latin America. The conflict was brutal and inhumane, and claimed the lives of more than twelve percent of Colombia population. However, due to the relieved tension between United States and Latin America countries, as well as the diminishing power of FARC that could no longer stand for more aggression, a peace deal seems to be inevitable to resolve the conflict that both parties could no longer support.

The Nobel Peace Prize endorses those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” yet it has been criticized for being too political. Some critics believe that the reasons for awarding is based on the contemporary significance, which makes the prize lack eternality. Current president Barack Obama has been awarded “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” only nine months after his presidency, and it is doubtful how the committee could examine the effectiveness of his international diplomacy in such a short period of time, as the increasing tension in Syria and the rise of ISIS raise more questions of the legitimacy of his award.

A political Nobel Peace Prize does not endorse its original purpose, as it is supposed to endorse some higher stakes that go beyond contemporary politics. It should be more humanitarian, more cosmopolitan, and more inclusive. In terms of this year, the Syrian Civil Defense organization, which was nominated but not awarded, may have been a better choice, as the group continues humanitarian rescues in the most dangerous country with no assistance from other political groups. Getting rid of influences from politics and political norms is hard for the Nobel Peace Prize, but it is necessary to keep the prize’s eternal significance.

Perspectives of a Math Major runs alternate Wednesdays. To contact the author to submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com.

In order to begin to try and understand the confusing world that is dating, we have to break it down to the basics. Sure, it can be said that some people just ‘stumble’ upon their ‘soul mate’, but being the neurotic single-lady that I am, that answer really just isn’t good enough for me. So using my handy-dandy side kick of statecraft theory, I have decided to really break down and dissect what factors, or personality traits, people posses that eventually lead to their perceived ‘happily ever after’.

 

As I began thinking about this more, and attempted to cut away all of the bullshit and stereotypes that so often hover as a poisonous fog around most relationships, I tried to discern what truly was the single most important factor in building a romantic relationship. My findings can essentially be summed up in the age-old debate… “It’s not all about looks” or perhaps even more demeaning, “but she has a great personality!” That’s right folks, apparently there is not a single solution! Apologies in advance to those who thought I was some sort of relationship guru and had actually figured this shit out.

However, I would like to suggest that maybe looks vs. personality isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. Maybe one is not more important than the other.According to Robert Art in his piece “Force and Fungibility Reconsidered”, he suggests that identifying a most important factor (i.e. choosing between force and diplomacy) is an absurd task. However, he doesn’t use this statement as a cop-out from answering the question of “what factors make a great state?”. Rather, he transforms the argument, stating that force is the central factor in statecraft. He contends that force gives meaning to diplomacy, however both are crucial to building a strong state.

 

Enough theory, let’s talk about sex. Or rather, sex appeal. Using Art’s theory, I have come to the semi-superficial conclusion that sexual attraction, or even just good looks, is at the center of every well-crafted relationship. The personality can only work its magic after the initial ‘punch’ of the flawless facial features or well-chiseled body.  

Just as David Baldwin criticizes Art in “Force, Fungibility, and Influence”, this argument also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The main contention being: perhaps a charming personality actually makes a person more attractive, or as Baldwin states, “it is also true that diplomacy, economic statecraft, and propaganda enhance the effectiveness of military force under certain circumstances”.
I unfortunately reached no solid conclusion, or revelation for that matter, in untangling the mess that is the modern relationship. But, perhaps that is what is so beautiful about both security and the modern marvel that is relationships; no one ever really knows “why”, and hell, there may never just be a single solution.

Photo Courtesy of Alixx Lucas

Dear Donald,
sometimes I have to thank you

sometimes I have to thank you
for bringing them down
because you expose those who also wish to
bring them down

Dear Donald,
sometimes I have to thank you
for dismissing our pain
for laughing our pain
for stabbing our pain
because you expose those
who wish to do the same

Dear Donald,
your hands are far too small

far too small to carry the weight
of this country
far too small to hold the hand of a mother
whose son’s been shot in cold blood in the street

Dear Donald,
sometimes I have to thank you for reminding me
of this country’s ailment
constantly making natives feel like foreigners
consistently fighting to keep foreigners out

Dear Donald,
who are you protecting?
what are you protecting?

Are you protecting America?

“Make America Great Again”
When was America great?

Were we great when we defiled eachother?
Were we great when we persecuted eachother?
Were we great when we enslaved eachother?
Were we great when we fought eachother?
Were we great when we killed eachother?

“Make America Great Again”
you say

I’m not interested in that America

But
Dear Donald,
sometimes I have to thank you for reminding me of what America is
who it protects
what it protects
and all that needs to change

Alixx is a junior in Columbia College studying Neuroscience.

The Lion is Columbia’s only publication with an open-submissions policy. To respond to this piece or to submit one of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com