Neuropolitics, Take 2: Are beliefs on abortion more than religion-based

*Disclaimer: I am writing this blog as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge - 50,000 words in 30 days. My goals with this and other blogs are to write a total of 50,000 words and to present the brain and learning in a less technical way. I don't know if these blogs will lead to a book, but if they do, I will acknowledge anyone who has commented on my blog (with their permission of course!) Please see my questions at the end of this blog, even if you didn't understand this blog!

For the sake of organization, I decided to find another article on political neuroscience.

Abortion is definitely a controversial issue, especially during the current political campaign.
  • New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Thomas L Friedman: Those who proclaim to be pro-life only care about conception to birth.
  • US State Representative from Missouri, Todd Aiken: Making a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate rape, he told voters that in a "legitimate rape", a woman's body will shut down its reproductive system. Further, he argued that there is no such thing as a pregnancy causing harm to the health of a mother.
  • Indiana Senate Candidate, Richard Mourdock: A pregnancy resulting from rape is intended by God.
  • Candidate for US Representative from Washington, John Koster: Abortion should always be illegal even if it's the result of the "rape thing".
The article I read this morning addressed one more question: "Why do the liberals, presumably under the influence of their more empathetic right hemispheres, and sometimes willing to risk their lives protecting species as genetically distant as trees, tend to support abortion rights? ... And can somebody explain the religious conservatives? Why does the fetus reach such an exalted status in their hierarchy of life?"

The answers to these questions, the author argues, reaches beyond any religious or nonreligious opinion: the olfactory system, left brain/right brain strength, the left insula, and the amygdala. Definitions for these terms will be offered in their respective sections.

It should be noted that the author's arguments are based on inferences from unrelated abortion research as the limited research on abortion opinions have been inconclusive.

Olfactory System
Most people understand the olfactory system is responsible for the sense of smell; however its structure and connections to the nervous system also make it highly associated with arousal, autonomic responses associated with fear, emotional responses, disgust, hormonal secretions, and memory. Further, Brack explains that the neurologic connections of the olfactory system indicate that it controls the tendency to be religiously political as "religious conservatives report greater olfactory sensitivity than liberals".

Left Brain/Right Brain Strength
The general understanding of left brain and right brain is that the first makes one more logical/scientific and the second makes one more artistic. So how does this relate to the pro-choice/pro-life movement?

Pro-choice individuals, in general, show stronger neurological connections in the left brain, while pro-life individuals, in general, show stronger neurological connections in the right brain. The significance of this difference is in ambiguity. We know that those who consider themselves pro-life remain constant on the idea that life begins at conception. This is a concrete view. Conversely, pro-choice advocates take an abstract or noncommittal view on when a fetus could be considered a baby. The biological definition of life is simply, "distinguished by the capacity to grow, metabolize, respond (to stimuli), adapt, and reproduce". We also know that a single cell can be considered life. Bacteria, for example, is a single celled organism, but it is certainly not held at the same esteem as the first cell created by human insemination. Perhaps, then, we could say that those who are pro-life have the concrete view that a baby exists at conception, regardless of its structure.

Ambiguity or lack thereof is distinctly in the right hemisphere or left hemisphere, respectively; therefore, neural activity strength may be an indicator of the choice to be prochoice or prolife.

Left Insula
The left insula is one area of the brain and part of the larger insular cortex. Brack explains, conservatives have greater gray area in the left insula than liberals do, and this larger gray area is associated to higher disgust sensitivity. Could this relate to pro-lifers' response to signs and flyers that show aborted fetuses?

The Amygdala is a significant structure within the brain responsible for memory and emotional reactions. It receives information from our sight and smell senses and passes that information to the hypothalamus, a brain structure that among other functions controls the body's fight or flight response.

The author clearly states that his constructive arguments are based on research that was done on religious versus non-religious individuals. He uses their assumptions of the conservative and liberal to frame his opinion of the neurology of abortion opinions. I have to admit that his arguments are strong and appear logical, but I'd like to see a researcher read this article and then conduct a study that researches at least one of these connections presented by Brack.

Note. It is likely that Brack's article will be archived when a new article is written. If this occurs, try this link instead.

Words: 761 -- Cummulative total= 1392/50,000 (does not include disclaimer or questions below)

Questions to my readers:
  • Was this blog too technical or too basic?
  • What did you like best/worst about this blog?
  • What questions did you have about this topic after you finished reading, if any?
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