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Political thought topic of Fall Neuroscience Symposium keynote

Politically savvy people think differently from the rest of us—literally.

The neural basis of political thought is the topic of the keynote address at William and Mary’s 2006 Fall Neuroscience Symposium. The symposium twice each year brings together people from the five departments active in the College’s neuroscience program, but this fall’s topic makes the interdisciplinary aspect even greater.

The symposium is being jointly sponsored by the William and Mary Government Department along with the Interdisciplinary Studies Program in Neuroscience. The symposium will be held Tuesday, Oct. 31 in Chesapeake A and B, in the University Center.

"This symposium is an exciting way to show how interdisciplinary our world has become—a world in which neuroscience is used to try to understand such a seemingly abstract concept as the origins of political thought,” said John Griffin, director of the interdisciplinary program in neuroscience. “I am looking forward to a lively debate and learning more about how MRI technology may help us understand how we think.”

The keynote address, by Darren Schreiber, is titled “Humans are, by Nature, Political Animals: New Evidence and Arguments.” Schreiber is a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and a professor of law at the University of San Diego. He has used fMRI—functional magnetic resonance imaging—to identify areas of political cognition in the brain.

“Political novices and political sophisticates think differently about politics,” Schreiber said. His research compared responses to political stimuli among a group of UCLA undergraduates. Schreiber examined “political sophisticates”: members of the university’s Republican and Democrat clubs, along with a control group of apolitical peers. He posed a set of stimuli to all participants and, using fMRI, studied the area of the brain triggered by each stimulus. His findings indicated that political stimuli activated different areas of the brain in political sophisticates than the political novices.

Schreiber’s address will be from 4 to 5 p.m., followed by a reception. Student poster presentations will begin at 2 p.m., followed by oral presentations from 3 to 3:45 p.m.