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Archive for March 11th, 2018

Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans

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Darren Schreiber, Greg Fonzo, Alan N. Simmons, Christopher T. Dawes, Taru Flagan, James H. Fowler, and Martin P. Paulus have an interesting report. Here is the abstract:

Liberals and conservatives exhibit different cognitive styles and converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs. In particular, a recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure, with liberals showing increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and conservatives showing increased gray matter volume in the in the amygdala. Here, we explore differences in brain function in liberals and conservatives by matching publicly-available voter records to 82 subjects who performed a risk-taking task during functional imaging. Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala. In fact, a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations yields a better fitting model of partisanship than a well-established model based on parental socialization of party identification long thought to be one of the core findings of political science. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.

The full report is available at the link. The introduction begins:

A large body of research suggests that liberals and conservatives differ on important psychological characteristics [1]. For example, conservatives demonstrate stronger attitudinal reactions to situations of threat and conflict. In contrast, liberals tend to be seek out novelty and uncertainty [1]. Moreover, Democrats, who are well known to be more politically liberal, are more risk accepting than Republicans, who are more politically conservative [2]. While ideology appears to drive reactions to the environment, environmental cues also influence political attitudes. For instance, external threats prime more conservative attitudes among liberals, moderates, and conservatives [3].

These ideological differences between political partisans have been attributed to logical, psychological, and social constraints [4] and past scholarship has focused primarily on institutional political processes or individual policy preferences, rather than biological differences in evaluative processes. But recent work has revealed physiological correlates of the differential responses to risk and conflict by liberals and conservatives. Consistent with the previously identified attitudinal divergence, conservatives have more intense physical reactions to threatening stimuli than liberals [5]. Conversely, liberals had stronger physiological responses to situations of cognitive conflict than conservatives [6].

Risk taking, the tendency to select an action where there is an uncertain potential for a relatively large beneficial outcome but also the possibility of an adverse outcome [7][9]requires balancing conflicting drives to obtain reward and avoid possible losses [10][12]. Risk taking is also closely related to and influenced by subjective perception and apprehension of threat [13][14]. Considering differential physiological responses to threat and conflict by liberals and conservatives, examining neural processes during risk-taking decision-making may be an important avenue for understanding the link between mental processes and political preferences.

The discovery by Kanai and colleagues [15] that four brain regions implicated in risk and uncertainty (the right amygdala, left insula, right entorhinal cortex, and anterior cingulate (ACC)) differed in liberals and conservatives provided further evidence that political ideology might be connected to differences in cognitive processes. In the context of risk-taking decision-making, the amygdala is thought to be important for the processing of affective attributes involved in decision making [16][18]. The insular cortex is involved in the representation of internal bodily cues crucial for subjective feeling states and in signaling potential changes in interoceptive state to possible decision-related outcomes [10][11][19][20]. Further, intolerance of uncertainty is related to posterior insula functioning [11]. The ACC is involved in conflict and error monitoring and in action selection [21][22]. Thus, the regions implicated in risk and conflict, cognitive processes during which liberals and conservatives have been shown to differ in physiological response, are the similar regions shown by Kanai et al. to differ structurally in liberals and conservatives. If patterns of brain activity in these regions during the evaluation of risks could dependably differentiate liberals and conservatives, then we would have further evidence of the link between mental processes and political preferences.

To test a conjecture that ideological differences between partisans reflect distinctive neural processes, we matched publicly available party registration records with the names of participants (35 males, 47 females) who had previously taken part in an experiment designed to examine risk-taking behavior during functional brain imaging. Ideally, we would have also directly inquired about the individuals’ ideological self-identification and attitudes about a set of political issues. However, we were not able to re-contact the participants. While party registration is not a perfect proxy for ideology, a realignment that started in the 1970s has caused the two to become increasingly correlated over the past 40 years [23]. Political polarization at both the mass and elite levels have created a period where ideology and partisanship are substantially overlapping concepts [24]. This trend has been even stronger in California (where the participants in this study resided) than in other states [25].

Individuals completed a simple risk-taking decision-making task [26] during which participants were presented with three numbers in ascending order (20, 40, and 80) for one second each. While pressing a button during the presentation of the number 20 on the screen always resulted in a gain of 20 cents, waiting to select 40 or 80 was associated with a pre-determined possibility of either gaining or losing 40 or 80 cents. Therefore, participants chose between a lower “safe” payoff and a higher risky payoff. The probabilities of losing 40 or 80 cents were calibrated so that there was no expected value advantage to choosing 20, 40 or 80 during the task, i.e. the overall pay-off would have been the same for each pure strategy. Previous studies [26][28]using this risk-taking decision-making task found activity in some of the same regions identified by Kanai et al. as differentiating liberals and conservatives.

As an initial test of our conjecture, we examined 5 mm spheres centered on regions in the amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, and entorhinal cortex that had been previously identified by Kanai et al. [15]. When these specific portions of the regions . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2018 at 11:44 am

Posted in Politics, Science

John Grisham: Eight reasons for America’s shameful number of wrongful convictions

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John Grisham, lawyer and writer, has a column in the LA Times:

It is too easy to convict an innocent person.
The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2% to 10%. That may sound low, but when applied to a prison population of 2.3 million, the numbers become staggering. Can there really be 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people locked away? Those of us who are involved in exoneration work firmly believe so.

Millions of defendants are processed through our courts each year. It’s nearly impossible to determine how many of them are actually innocent once they’ve been convicted. There are few resources for examining the cases and backgrounds of those claiming to be wrongfully convicted.

Once an innocent person is convicted, it is next to impossible to get them out of prison. Over the past 25 years, the Innocence Project, where I serve on the board of directors, has secured through DNA testing the release of 349 innocent men and women, 20 of whom had been sent to death row. All told, there have been more than 2,000 exonerations, including 200 from death row, in the U.S. during that same period. But we’ve only scratched the surface.

Wrongful convictions happen for several reasons. In no particular order, these causes are:

Bad police work

Most cops are honest, hard-working professionals. But some have been known to hide, alter or fabricate evidence, lie on the witness stand, cut deals with snitches in return for bogus testimony, intimidate and threaten witnesses, coerce confessions or manipulate eyewitness identifications.

Prosecutorial misconduct

Most prosecutors are also honest, hard-working professionals. But some have been known to hide exculpatory evidence, encourage witnesses to commit perjury, lie to jurors, judges and defense lawyers, use the testimony of bogus experts or ignore relevant evidence beneficial to the accused.

False confessions

Most jurors find it impossible to believe that a suspect would confess to a serious crime he didn’t commit. Yet the average citizen, if taken to a basement room and subjected to 10 consecutive hours of abusive interrogation tactics by experienced cops, might be surprised at what they would say. Of the 330 people who were exonerated by DNA evidence between 1989 to 2015, about 25% gave bogus confessions after lengthy interrogations. Almost every one recanted soon after.

Faulty eyewitness identification

More often than not, those who witness violent acts have trouble accurately recalling the facts and identifying those involved. Physical and photo lineups may exacerbate the problem because police manipulate them to focus suspicion on favored suspects.

Jailhouse snitches

In every jail there is a career criminal staring at a long sentence. For leniency, he can be persuaded to lie to the jury and describe in great detail the confession overheard from the accused, usually a cellmate. If he performs well enough on the stand, the authorities might allow him to walk free.

Bad lawyering . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2018 at 8:46 am

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