So why are many people still fearful and less tolerant of others based on race or other visible differences?
According to most every scientific study; genetically all “humans” are between 99.2% and 99.9% identical in our DNA structure(s) and configuration(s), thus making us less than 1% different from one another regardless of skin colour, eye colour or any other traits we may possess. As there is little difference in any of us, one must conclude that human behaviour and our fears that we often associate with things such as xenophobia, homophobia, racism, intolerance and bigotry must be learned behaviours passed down from generation to generation, right? Or are there perhaps other plausible and/or reasonable explanations at play when it comes to how we respond to our fears?
Neuroscience has recently discovered that many aspects of our “fear” responses are generated in the amphibian part of our brains in an area known as the amygdala. The amygdala is largely responsible for our emotional responses such as “fear and/or our fight or flight” reactions and directly linked to a time in our human evolution associated with our amphibian ancestors where survival depended solely on the ability to discern danger and whether to engage in a fight or to scurry off and avoid a highly dangerous possible outcome. So, the amygdala is the centre of our brain that sends any sense of “fear messages” throughout the rest of our brain. However the amygdala is not the only part of our brain that is at play here.
How one responds to our “fear” messages has to do with another area of our brain known as the cortex. The cortex’s job is to essentially weed out any irrational “fear messages” that have been sent by the amygdala to other parts of our brain. Recent studies have found that there are differences in the size and the manner in which “conservative thinkers vs. liberal thinkers” in both the amygdala and the cortex and how each area responds and reacts to possible or potential danger.
For example – Individuals who are more conservative in nature have a tendency to have a slightly larger amygdala and slightly smaller cortex and more liberal individuals often have the opposite a slightly larger cortex and a slightly smaller amygdala. So, when a liberal thinker gets “irrational fear messages” sent to the cortex from the amygdala the cortex does its job and weeds out any possible irrational messages before passing these messages onto the rest of the brain. However when a conservative thinker is bombarded by the amygdala with these same irrational fear messages the cortex has trouble doing its intended job of weeding these messages out as the cortex is often simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of messages being sent so, the cortex will often just “give up”, all resulting in messages being put forth to other areas of our brain without properly having all the information properly descerned. This is perhaps why some conservatives can sometimes appear to be more xenophobic, possibly more prone to racism and less tolerant of any differences?
It should be pointed out that none of this has anything to do with a person’s intelligence but rather only how our brain responds to fear. One need only look at the unwavering supporters of the NRA to understand that more “conservative thinkers” are more likely to hold onto the notion of gun ownership and the right to bear arms for their own protection. Liberals are the ones that always seem to be trying to curb or change these existing rules and laws in an attempt to curb the amount of gun violence that currently exists in the United States.
So the question becomes, if we are all essentially the same in our genetic makeup, do we simply learn the stereotypes that often cultivate in the innate and inherent characteristics of unfounded intolerance and bigotry? Much of this results and manifests into racism, xenophobia, homophobia, bigotry and intolerance and sometimes even hatred, so is it the slight and simple differences in our brains to blame for the seemingly growing prejudice and intolerance these days?
Regardless of the reason, our fears and prejudice have become so prevalent and far too universal and commonplace in this world that they have become an infringement on our human cohesion, compassion and kindness toward one another. A combination of factors I am sure – thoughts on how to change this would be a very welcome discussion.