Lead researcher Roger Newman-Norlund of the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health and colleagues had 24 college students reveal their political affiliations. The study subjects were then given questionnaires designed to gauge their attitudes on a range of select political issues.
The study participants were given "resting state" brain scans using magnetic resonance imaging, which made it possible to analyze the strength of connections within the mirror neuron system in both the left and right hemispheres of their brains. The mirror neuron system is a brain network linked to a host of social and emotional abilities, Newman-Norlund said.
The study found more neural activity in areas believed to be linked with broad social connectedness such as friends and the world at-large in Democrats. In Republicans, more activity was found in areas linked with tight social connectedness such as family and country.
In some ways the study confirms a stereotype about members of the two parties -- Democrats tend to be more global and Republicans more America-centric, the researchers said.
Bridging partisan divides and acting contrary to ideological preferences might require going against deeply ingrained biological tendencies and while there is evidence that mirror neuron connections could change over time, it's not something that happens overnight, Newman-Norlund said.