What makes a liberal, and what makes a conservative?  Believe it or not, there is a difference in the anatomic structure of liberal and conservative brains. The right amygdala is bigger and more active in conservatives, as demonstrated by brain scans. The amygdala processes emotions. The right amygdala tends to be more associated with negative emotions, fear, anxiety, and depression, which is more in concert with conservatism for unclear reasons. At times of national disaster such as the 9/11 event, people became more conservative in their thinking and the right amygdala got more of a workout. In contrast, the person that feels safe and more in control of his/her environment and destiny is more likely to be liberal. 

The amygdala is part of the limbic system, which is the older brain controlling our automatic, emotional, and visceral responses such as the fight or flight response. We have less conscious control of that part of the brain. It is the brain of the crocodile. Sigmund Freud would call that the ID, the area of the brain that controls actions that are more automatic rather than controlled by the reasoning of the newer brain, the cortex of the evolutionary more recent mind.


Conservatives like the tried and true methods.  In art, they favor classic, representational sculptings, paintings, and music, while the liberals gravitate to abstract, and experimental art and music. Conservatives want the numbers, the evidence, and the proof, while liberals go with the feelings, the emotional impact, the let us see what happens approach.  The Nancy Pelosi famous line on Obama Care explains it best, “Pass the bill so we can find out what is in it!”

Liberals consider themselves to be more understanding and sympathetic. The individual is the product of his genetics, his life influence, and therefore it is not his fault he turned out as he/she did.

At the same time, conservatives tend to put more responsibility on the individual for his or her situation and attribute more weight to honor, personal accountability, and religion to lift up a disadvantaged person.

Children who are aggressive tend to become adults that do not trust authority, the police, the rules, nor the government, and thus are more likely to be left-leaning.

Conservatives like order, and traditional styles of beauty, organized known patterns, and have a more challenging time looking at “yucky stuff.” At the same time, liberals are more interested in the new, even if it evokes unpleasant feelings, and are not nearly as concerned about orderly patterns. Progressives are willing to expose themselves to the untried, potentially ugly side of life, and as a consequence, have more “ah-ha” moments than conservatives. The liberals can accept new concepts with less scrutiny than the conservatives.  The liberal has fewer demands before something new is tried.  They are less resistant to change—this is seen in their eyes. The liberal scans his environment constantly while the conservative tends to focus on one scene.

The liberal needs fewer reasons to change and will accept less evidence with fewer challenges than the conservative.  The liberal does less looking into a new (“progressive”) idea and goes more by the emotional impact and feel of it; consequently, the liberal does not have as complete of a grasp of that idea as a conservative who has challenged it with greater fervor, and whose initial response to most new ideas is usually negative. Mark Twain in that respect was of the view that new ideas are just old ideas re-tooled and not necessarily better. In discussions between the liberal and conservative, the liberal’s arguments use the overall feel of it as a justification for their position more often than data.  This makes it difficult to debate. Feelings are difficult to refute and are not as alterable in contradistinction to opinions even if based on observation. It also explains why a liberal will always stay a liberal and a conservative, remain a conservative. The liberal comes away from most disagreements not only that the conservative is wrong, but that he/she is also evil because feelings are more embedded in our limbic system than data.

The liberal is so certain that anyone who disagrees with him/her must be either stupid, asleep at the wheel, or evil. The liberal would rather just ignore you rather than discuss an issue, as there is no point in discussions with a stupid or evil person.  There are very few conservatives who will break windows, wear pink pussycat caps, or burn bras to make a point, although breaking windows certainly makes more of an emotional statement, and pink pussycat caps and bra-burning most definitively must come from somewhere in the limbic system. The conservative mindset tends to be based more on data, and data is a newer brain cortex function versus emotion that is embedded in the limbic system (reptilian brain). That is why you see many more on the left marching with fervent, sometimes violent protests. It is also easier to torch a building when one is fighting evil. Pulling down monuments that glorify evil then becomes a moral mandate.  It readily explains why liberals will be friends usually only with other liberals but rarely, with conservatives, which becomes a self-validating incestuous process, known as confirmation bias. Being friends with the stupid devil is just not acceptable to their sensibilities on at least two levels. 

The liberal is unafraid to express his/her opinion, and does not hesitate to have Biden posters in his/her front yard.  The conservative is afraid to be labeled “stupid” or “evil” and is even hesitant to admit his conservatism for fear of retaliation or violence, hence the existence of the “Silent Majority” or the “The Shy Trump Voters.” That is why poles may be misleading. We shall see!*

* This essay was inspired by an article in Business Insider, These Key Psychological Differences can Determine Whether You’re Liberal or Conservative, by Hilary Brueck April 19, 2018. 

Some thoughts are also from my father, who practiced Psychiatry. The majority of the essay is my personal opinion after 51 years of practicing medicine.