Conservatism and the Neural Circuitry of Threat: Economic Conservatism Predicts Greater Amygdala-BNST Connectivity During Periods of Threat vs. Safety

Political conservatism is associated with an increased negativity bias, including increased attention and reactivity toward negative and threatening stimuli. Although the amygdala has been implicated in the human response to threatening stimuli, no studies to date have investigated whether conservatism is associated with altered amygdala function toward threat. Furthermore, although an influential theory (Davis et al., 2010) posits that connectivity between the amygdala
and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) is important in initiating the response to sustained or uncertain threat, whether individual differences in conservatism modulate this connectivity is unknown. To test whether conservatism is associated with increased reactivity in neural threat circuitry, we measured participants’ self-reported social and economic conservatism and asked them to complete high-resolution fMRI scans while under threat of an unpredictable shock and while safe. We found that economic conservatism predicted greater connectivity between the BNST and a cluster of voxels in the left amygdala during threat vs. safety. These results suggest that increased amygdala-BNST connectivity during threat may be a key neural correlate of the enhanced negativity bias found in conservatism.