Coventry University Professor examines what brain scans reveal about our political behaviour and how they could shape the future of voter campaigns

A head and shoulders picture of Professor Matt Qvortrup

Professor Matt Qvortrup

University news / Research news

Tuesday 19 March 2024

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Is it possible to hide your political leanings? Well not from brain scans according to Coventry University political expert Professor Matt Qvortrup.

His book The Political Brain is the first ever book length study into the use of brain scans within the new discipline of so-called neuropolitics.

Neuropolitics is a rapidly developing field studying what our brains can tell us about the motivation of politicians and voters.

It uses fMRI brain scans to identify which parts of the brain are activated when we are presented with different topics under the brain scanner.

Having originally studied neuroscience, Matt Qvortrup, earned a doctorate in political science at Oxford. The Professor of Political Science at Coventry University’s Research Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, has now returned to his first academic love. This week, he launched his new book The Political Brain: The Emergence of Neuropolitics.

The Political Brain outlines how scientists have been able to use fMRI brain scans to identify parts of the brain more active in people of differing political persuasions.

Such scans, undertaken in studies in the US, were found to be able to identify differences between liberals and conservatives, sometimes with better accuracy then surveys.

The technique is also said to be considerably more accurate than traditional lie detector polygraph tests, with more than 80% accuracy.

Neuropolitics is the cutting edge of political science. It is a discipline that combines political science with neuroscience. We use brain scans to understand what people actually think, how they react and how they are likely to behave politically.

We can say with 85% certainty whether you are conservative or the opposite on the basis of brain scans, it all comes down to the parts of the brain you actually use. Whether you are conservative or you are liberal, it will all show up in your brain.

Professor Matt Qvortrup

Among the research examined in Professor Qvortrup’s book is that which focuses on an area of the brain called the Insular Cortex (on the side of the brain), which is associated with empathy and is said to be more active in people with left-leaning political views.

On the other side the book considers the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (on the top side of the brain), which is linked to feelings of caution, to be more active in those with Conservative leanings.

The Political Brain also looks into scans of the Amygdala (deep in the brain behind the eyes), an almond shaped area of the brain shared with cats, rats and bats, which is associated with fight or flight.

This primitive area of the brain is said to be particularly active among those with more radical political views, but it could also explain why scare tactics may appeal to voters.

Neuropolitics is not just the future, it is already here and people should be interested in it because this is how political campaigns are likely to be shaped in the future.

There are many potential dangers with neuropolitics, it could be used and abused by political leaders, but if we know about neuropolitics, we are more likely to use this technology well.

Professor Matt Qvortrup

The Political Brain: The Emergence of Neuropolitics is available now from Central European University Press.

Find out more about Coventry University's Research Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations