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Brain Structures May Predict Political Views

With the Canadian election race in full swing,  some people know exactly who they are going to vote for, and others are unsure. Each of us have our own biases and opinions about the big issues like healthcare, defense, and the economy.

Picture from Google Images

A group of scientists from the University College London just published a study in Current Biology that may show why “liberals are open to new experiences and can cope with conflicting information,” and why “conservatives are more sensitive to threat or anxiety in the face of uncertainty. ” (Quotes from

The team of researchers looked at the different sizes of these two structures called the anterior cingulate cortex and the amygdala (click the name to find out more information about each structure from Wikipedia). This team suspected that there might be a structural difference in the brain that accounts for these differences. And this is indeed what they found. People with larger anterior cingulate cortexes tended to have more liberal views. Whereas people with larger amygdalas tended to have conservative views.

But there is not enough evidence to conclude that only these structures account for the political differences. There were too many uncontrollable factors to take into account, such as life experience, family history, also what kind of environment the subject was raised in. And people also have the ability to change their views over time.

Ryota Kanai of the University College London concluded in the article that “It’s very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions,” and “more work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude.”

Side note:

Picture from Google Images

Vote Compass is a free online survey where just click the answers that are closest to your opinions and it will tell you which political party you are closest to. I think it’s pretty cool, to check it out click on Vote Compass to go there now.


Predator Computer Program Tracks Human Face Better than You

Now that the class has finished their interviews and has begun to assemble their footage, depending on how they conducted their interview it’s likely that some surprises may appear in the editing room. I know from personal experience now that it is difficult being a professional cinematographer. Fitting the subject into the frame of the shot just right and following their movement is not as easy as one would think.

But what if you had a camera that could do all this by itself and you merely had to press record? Zdenek Kalal, a PhD student at the University of Surrey in England, has just finished research that could make this a reality. He has developed a real time tracking program that unlike previous visual identification systems learns over time. That is, it can learn what the subject in question looks like at various angles and distances and actually gets more accurate over time. Affectionately named Predator, it promises to be the next generation of visual recognition technology.

The below video from the creator Mr. Kalal himself shows the program in action and provides an excellent introduction to the technology. Incidentally he also provides a fine example of how to effectively present research to the public.

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As Mr. Kalal explains, the possible uses for the device go beyond simple facial recognition, although in the context of this class that would certainly be the most welcome. How simple would it be to tell Predator what to focus on, and then let a motorized camera automatically track your subject while you are free to carry out the interview unencumbered. Even in the context of large studio films I would not be surprised to learn that directors are eager to experiment with it. In the realm of science there are also several possibilities. The example noted in the video centres around animal research. The use visual recognition software could revolutionalize the field of wildlife biology. Studies of much larger scale could be completed by using cameras mounted in strategic locations, rather than relying on scientists heading out into the field to do manual observations.

Here is a link to the original press release from the University of Surrey, whose creation  process is yet another area of science that we are now familiar with thanks to Science 300.