Clinical trials are important. People who participate in them help us find new cures treatments, and explanations for various behaviors.

One recent clinical study conducted by University of California psychologist Dr. Jonas Kaplan, captured my attention. It turns out that there is actually a scientific reason why people are stubborn about their political beliefs.

Kaplan and his colleagues studied 40 self-avowed liberals and found that they reacted with significant emotion when presented with statements contrary to their political beliefs. However, they had little reaction to a statement affirming the genius of Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison. The scientists observed participants’ reactions in the amygdala of the brain on a functional MRI scanner, which is the region of the brain that correlates with negative emotions, self identity, and perceived threats.

In documenting their findings in Scientific Reports, the scientists concluded that people’s political beliefs are strongly tied to their personal identities or sense of self. Kaplan said this is because the brain is built to protect itself when it feels threatened in much the same way that our immune system protects the body.

While Kaplan says a larger study is needed, he and his colleagues find the results very encouraging. He said, “While it is very difficult to change a person’s views on topics like same-sex marriage and immigration, if we remind them that facts matter, and who they are and what they believe are two separate things, they are capable of changing their minds without feeling threatened.”

I, too, find it encouraging to know that while it isn’t always easy to consider someone else’s point of view, there is actually a scientific reason for that. Perhaps with a bit more patience and compassion we can all come to realize that there is much to be gained from conversations based on facts that can help bring us together.

Have a wonderful February, keep having compassionate conversations, and stay healthy!


Annette Pinder