The genetics of politics

After my broad-ranging comments on the psychology of politics yesterday, I thought I might focus in a little more on the major factor behind one's political stance: genetics. I saw the ground-breaking 1986 article by Martin & Jardine on the heritability of politics as soon as it came out (I had a chapter in the same book) so ever since then I have been pointing out how strong is the genetic influence on political stance. What is not yet clear is WHICH genes are involved and exactly what is inherited.

One fairly straightforward study from a couple of years ago is worth a mention. It ties in nicely with something I found in 1984 -- that Leftists tend to be sensation seekers. They are restless people in search of anything new and different. This can of course lead directly to a desire for change -- which is of course a central feature of Leftist thinking. They are always wanting to change something.
People with left wing views may have their political opinions controlled by a "liberal gene", according to scientists.

The research suggests that some people have an inherent bias against conservative thinking, that is independent of their education or upbringing.

The effect is caused by a neurotransmitter in the brain called DRD4 which could be stimulated by the novelty value of left of centre opinions, say US researchers.

In people who are naturally outgoing, the feature encourages them to seek out companions with unconventional views as they grow up.

This in turn means they tend to form less conventional political viewpoints as adults, according to the study by the University of California and Harvard.

The research, based on 2,000 Americans, is published in the Journal of Politics. It found those with a strain of the DRD4 gene seek out "novelty" - such as people and lifestyles which are different to the ones they are used to. This leads them to have more liberal political opinions, it found.

The person's age, ethnicity, gender or culture appeared to make no difference - it was the gene which counts.

DRD4 is controlled by dopamine which affects the way the brain deals with emotions, pleasure and pain and can therefore influence personality traits.

UC Professor James Fowler said: "It is the crucial interaction of two factors - the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence - that is associated with being more liberal. "These findings suggest that political affiliation is not based solely on the kind of social environment people experience."


That study is of course far from the end of the story. There are indications of other genes being involved as well. But it clearly has some explanatory power.

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