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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 thought that drives us, but the biological mechanisms and foundations of brain-thought interactions are still misunderstood and are the subject of many studies, including the neurobiological mechanisms that govern ideologies. One of them recently revealed that fMRI (functional MRI) imaging of the brain, indicating the activation of brain regions, can make it possible to identify political ideologies in an incredibly precise way. Performed using a artificial intelligencethese image analyzes may have taken root in the biological roots of even partisan (conservative or liberal) views.

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

Psychologically, the most accurate way to predict a person’s political ideologies is to know those of his or her parents. Among other things, the social environment in which a child grows up can influence his or her thinking and future decision-making. In this environment, the identity of the child is also forged, which can be shaped and influenced by his ideologies.

In the new study, described in the journal PNAS Nexus, researchers at Ohio State University have found that biological signatures detected by fMRI (functional MRI) can predict at least as effectively as a person’s ideology, a person’s political ideology. « Can we understand political behavior by looking only at the brain? The answer is a resounding yes Says in a press release Skyler Cranmer, co-author of the new study and professor of political science at Ohio State University.

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 at once, suggesting that the biological and neurological roots of political behavior are much deeper than we thought before.

Three main tasks related to political ideologies

To arrive at their results, the researchers analyzed the fMRI results of 174 healthy adults. In particular, this is the largest study of its kind to accurately predict people’s political tendencies when performing various tasks (8 mundane tasks, none of which were intended to provoke an ideology). Scans were also performed when they were not performing any particular tasks.

The research team then relied on artificial intelligence as well as data from the Ohio Supercomputer Center to analyze the images obtained. The researchers then found correlations between the results of the analyzes and the participants’ reports on their ideology (on a six-point scale ranging from very liberal to very conservative).

« None of the eight tasks were designed to elicit partisan responses Says Seo Eun Yang, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University. « But we found that the analyzes of the eight tasks were related to their identification as Liberals or Conservatives. She adds.

Even when participants did not perform any particular activity, imaging revealed brain activities specifically related to political ideologies. Several regions of the brain transmitted activity signals, including the amygdala, lower frontal gyrus, and hippocampus.

In addition, three tasks were particularly related to political ideologies. One of them 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 rewarding task, where participants could earn or lose money depending on how quickly they pressed a button.

Analyzes of images related to reward tasks could then indicate political extremism (very liberal or very conservative). While the task of empathy was more tied to a moderate ideology. The predictions were even more accurate when demographic and socio-economic indicators (age, sex, income, education,…) were taken into account in the analyzes.

However, the study authors point out that more research needs to be done to understand the relationship between reward decision-making and extreme political views. And while the study has been able to identify the links between brain signatures and political ideologies, it does not yet know whether signatures are due to ideologies, or whether conversely ideologies are triggered by signals. « It could also be a combination of the two, but our study does not have the data to answer this question Cranmer concludes.

Source: PNAS Nexus

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