Why Opinions Diverge...Different Thinking Styles

Opening Closed Minds

It was a quiet and calm morning. But my “zen” was quickly put to the test.

I had a business call with an individual who wears a very different pair of glasses than I do.  Her lens is colored by individual achievement, power and monetary success.  She leans toward the right and prefers maintaining the status quo and tradition.

My lens, however, is steeped in the value of the collective and the belief that the sum is greater than any one part, and I win when all of us win.  I lean toward the left and believe change and diversity makes the world better.

In our conversation, I suppose both of us hoped to raise awareness and share another vision of the world. But I don’t think we listened to one another as both of us believe our world view is right, better than the other.

And in our own righteousness, neither of us was going to veer from our own perspective. So, my body tensed up and I found myself getting irritated. And after I hung up I took a little walk and chilled for a while.

Now I assume the innate differences between us are based on our upbringing and   values learned as a child.  But perhaps we are just wired differently?

Ever fascinated by the findings that are emerging around the workings of the brain and what makes us tick, I thoughtI would do a little research in the field of neurosciences to gain some insights.

So, what does science tell us?

Although the research and findings are controversial, facts are emerging that do describe the brain differences between a conservative and a liberal.  In an article published in SCIENCE magazine by Chris Mooney over 5 years ago, the case is made that there are “two distinct thinking styles, and correlations between brain function/anatomy and political party affiliation exist…and the findings are consistent across multiple studies of varying design and methodology, over years of research.” According to the neuroscientists, “conservatives are more likely to have an enlarged amygdala, where the development and storage of emotional memories takes place. This mean they prefer stability and in general are more emotion-driven, connecting themselves intimately with their ideas, making beliefs a crucial part of their identify.”

 Meanwhile “the brains of liberals tend to have larger and/or more active anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC—useful in detecting and judging conflict and error, leading them to be more flexible and rely on data, proof and analytic reasoning."

To use the words of comedian Arte Johnson, “Very Interesting.”  It seems there is emerging science behind the statement, “we are wired differently.”  Indeed, our thinking style, based on our brain function and anatomy, may correlate with party lines. 

Now, knowing these facts doesn’t change my view. I will protest greed, bigotry, racism or inequity, and will always defend and stand up for social justice.  But next time I talk with a conservative, at least I’ll know why their view is so divergent from mine. I’ll take a slow, deep breath and keep my “zen.”   

MaryAnne Harmer