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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Help for the Hemispherically Challenged

or, why the lights are on but nobody's home

I always get confused when I consider the thought processes (or lack thereof) that wingnuts employ to reach such rigid conclusions. Doesn't terminology like "axis of evil" and "smoke 'em out of their holes" sound more like Marvel Comics than an appropriate tone for international diplomacy? You can chalk it up to cultural differences or lack of education if you want, but I've always felt that wingers were just wired differently than me.

It turns out maybe I'm not wrong.

Recent developments in neurological science are showing that the left hemisphere of the brain is the repository for current beliefs about the world, while the right hemisphere acts as sort of "devil's advocate," scanning left hemisphere beliefs for anomalies and inconsistencies, and forcing an updating of those beliefs as a result. In order for that "updating factor" to kick in there has to be strong interaction and swapping of information between the hemispheres.

According to a recent study, strong right-handedness is an indicator of decreased interaction between the two sides of the brain; as a result, there is a lesser degree of "belief updating." The study found that people who were strongly right-handed, as opposed to mixed or inconsistent-handed, had a much greater tendency to believe in creationist theory as opposed to an acceptance of science and evolution. The researchers believe that low hemispheric interaction allowed individuals to maintain beliefs dictated by religion and hold them uncritically despite exposure to any evidence to the contrary.

So maybe it's not willful disbelief, or cognitive dissonance that keeps wingers in the dark so much as it is that the two sides of their brain simply aren't talking to one another. I've heard similar reasoning advanced to encourage scientists, who primarily utilize left brain, linear thinking in their work, to study art and other forms of creative, non-linear disciplines that develop right-brain thinking in order to facilitate communication between the two hemispheres.

I'm thinking maybe a bill called No Redneck Left Behind that calls for compulsory art education throughout the South?

Okay, it's a reach. But we could do worse.

(via Eric Alterman)

Photo: Andrea Jaccarino