National Pride, the Amygdala & Anterior Cingulate Cortex

Americans aren’t feeling so patriotic these days. As a matter of fact, feeling “extremely proud to be an American” was at a record low on July 4, 2018. That’s according to the Gallup poll. The people at Gallup have been taking the measure of US patriotism ever since the turn of the century, and this is the lowest it’s ever been. For the first time, fewer than a majority said they were “extremely proud.” That’s down from 50 percent in 2017 and way down from the peak 70 percent in 2003.

Republicans are prouder to be Americans than Democrats.  That’s generally true, year in and year out, and the Gallup pollsters don’t say. What they do say, carefully and prudently, is that “As has typically been the case, Republicans are more inclined to say they are extremely proud to be Americans than are Democrats and independents.”  This year, 74 percent of Republicans are extremely proud, which is the highest in the last five years.

On the other hand, among Democrats only 32 percent are extremely proud, and that’s down from 43 percent from 2017 and further down from 56 percent in 2013 when Obama was in office.  Independents are less extremely proud than they have been in the recent past, but the drop isn’t as great as it is among Democrats. The political group with the smallest percent of extremely proud-to-be-Americans are liberals. They are truly un-extremely proud. Extreme pride among liberals has plunged 28 points since 2013. These are not happy people. Among political moderates, 46 percent say they’re extremely proud, and among liberals it’s only half that much, 23 percent.

No one can say for sure why Republicans “are more inclined to say they are extremely proud to be Americans than Democrats.” But an  interesting and provocative article on the subject appeared in Current Biology journal a few years back, and it’s been quoted a number of times since then. Essentialy, the study found that “greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala.” A lot has been made of that pioneering study, maybe too much, but that’s what we have.