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An AI that guesses political ideologies based on functional MRI

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The brain is the center of all thinking that drives us, but the mechanisms and biological basis of brain-mind interactions are still misunderstood and the subject of numerous studies, particularly on the neurobiological mechanisms that drive ideologies. A recently revealed that fMRI (functional MRI) imaging of the brain, which shows activation of brain regions, can localize political ideologies incredibly accurately. These image analyzes performed with artificial intelligence may have pierced the biological roots of partisan (conservative or liberal) views.

The concept of ideology is still an imprecise concept. It is generally seen as negative and often refers to received ideas and partisan ideas. In politics, it refers to a well-defined set of ethical ideals, principles, or doctrines that govern a social movement, institution, or large grouping. One of the many aspects of their ideologies is their tendency to want to dominate, believing that society should function according to certain pre-established norms.

From a psychological point of view, the most accurate way to predict a person’s political ideologies is to know those of their parents. The social environment in which a child grows up can have a significant impact on their thinking and future decisions. In this environment, the child’s identity is also forged, which can be shaped and influenced by its world views.

In the new study, described in the journal PNAS Nexus, Ohio State University researchers found that biological signatures detected by fMRI (functional MRI) are at least as good at predicting a person’s political ideology as their parents’ ideology. ” Can we understand political behavior just by looking at the brain? The answer is a pretty resounding yes. Skyler Cranmer, co-author of the new study and a professor of political science at Ohio State University, said in a statement.

While previous studies have already linked these ideologies to specific areas of the brain, this new study is one of the first to link them to multiple brain regions simultaneously, suggesting that the biological and neurological roots of political behavior lie much deeper than we previously thought .

Three main tasks related to political ideologies

To arrive at their findings, the researchers analyzed fMRI results from 174 healthy adults. In particular, it is the most comprehensive study of its kind to accurately predict people’s political tendencies when performing various tasks (8 worldly tasks, none of which were intended to ignite an ideology). The scans were also performed when they were not performing a specific task.

The research team then used artificial intelligence and data from the Ohio Supercomputer Center to analyze the images obtained. The researchers then identified correlations between the results of the analyzes and the statements made by the participants about their ideology (on a six-point scale from very liberal to very conservative).

None of the eight tasks were designed to provoke partisan reactions says Seo Eun Yang, also a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University. ” But we found that analyzes of the eight tasks were linked to whether they were identified as liberal or conservative “, she adds.

Even when participants weren’t engaging in a specific activity, the imaging revealed brain activity specifically linked to political ideologies. Several brain regions transmitted activity signals, including the amygdala, inferior frontal gyrus and hippocampus.

In addition, three tasks were particularly associated with political ideologies. One was about empathy and invited participants to look at pictures of people with neutral, happy, sad and fearful faces. The second was dedicated to episodic memory and the third was a rewards task where participants could win or lose money based on how quickly they pressed a button.

Analysis of images related to reward tasks could then indicate political extremism (very liberal or very conservative). While the empathy task is more related to a moderate ideology. The predictions became even more precise when demographic and socio-economic indicators (age, gender, income, education, etc.) were included in the analyses.

However, the study authors emphasize that more research needs to be done to understand the relationship between reward decisions and extreme political views. And while the study was able to identify the connections between brain signatures and political ideologies, it is not yet clear whether the signatures are due to the ideologies or, conversely, the ideologies are triggered by the signals. ” It could also be a combination of both, but our study doesn’t have the data to answer that question. concludes Cranmer.

Source: PNAS Nexus

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