Emerging research has begun investigating the neural underpinnings of the biological and psychological differences that drive political ideology, attitudes, and actions. Here, we explore the neurological roots of politics through conducting a large sample, whole-brain analysis of functional connectivity (FC) across common fMRI tasks. Using convolutional neural networks, we develop predictive models of ideology using FC from fMRI scans for nine standard task-based settings in a novel cohort of healthy adults (n = 174, age range: 18 to 40, mean = 21.43) from the Ohio State University Wellbeing Project. Our analyses suggest that liberals and conservatives have noticeable and discriminative differences in FC that can be identified with high accuracy using contemporary artificial intelligence methods and that such analyses complement contemporary models relying on socio-economic and survey-based responses. FC signatures from retrieval, empathy, and monetary reward tasks are identified as important and powerful predictors of conservatism, and activations of the amygdala, inferior frontal gyrus, and hippocampus are most strongly associated with political affiliation. Although the direction of causality is unclear, this study suggests that the biological and neurological roots of political behavior run much deeper than previously thought.
Keywords: convolutional neural networks; deep learning; functional magnetic resonance imaging; political neuroscience.
© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of National Academy of Sciences.