The genetics of politics

For many years now I have been pointing to the extensive research findings that show a large genetic influence on one's political orientation.  Exactly how that works in detail at the genetic level is however speculative.  I have suggested that a parsimonious account of the matter might be that Leftists are born miserable and that they blame their miserableness not on themselves but on all the "wrongness" in society.

So a relatively recent research paper from some distinguished behavior geneticists is of some interest.  It is "Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies" and can be accessed  here or here. I reproduce a paragraph from the beginning of their "Discussion" section:

"In the first stage of our analysis we demonstrated that there are several substantively significant relationships between the personality traits and political ideology dimensions. Most notably, P is substantially correlated with conservative military and social attitudes, while Social Desirability is related to liberal social attitudes, and Neuroticism is related to liberal economic attitudes

That's not bad as a confirmation of my theory.  The P scale is designed to measure tough-mindedness and tough-minded people would be unlikely to succumb readily to misery.  So conservatives  are indeed tough-minded.

The Social Desirability scale is designed to measure approval seeking.  And Leftists are certainly approval seekers.  For some, approval seeking seems to be the main motive for being Leftist.  Leftists are constantly portraying themselves as all  heart and wishing only for the good of others -- pretty powerful as approval seeking.

The correlation with neuroticism is interesting.  The usual finding is that neuroticism is not politically polarized.  But the researchers above added a refinement.  They measured economic attitudes separately from other political attitudes.  And they found that people who are careless about the effects of economic policies -- which liberals are -- score highly on neuroticism.

So neuroticisn -- which consists of anxiety and excessive concern with one's own feelings -- leads to support for letting the government take control of everything.  Neurotics are so obsessive about their own feelings that they don't have the energy to think the effects of economic policies through and so prefer to leave it all to the government.  And neurotics are certainly miserable so all three findings above could be seen as support for my theory.

The authors of the article then go on to look at their data in more depth and in particular seek to trace the causal path behind the above correlations.  I have however never accepted that path analysis or any other statistical method can establish cause. I recently discussed that at some length in my comments on the causal claims  of Adolf Stips.  In brief, I take the mainstream view in analytical philosophy that the essential minimum that is needed to demonstrate cause is a demonstration of invariant temporal precedence and constant conjunction.  And no model can demonstrate that.

But a further paragraph was interesting:

"These analyses provide the backdrop for the more pivotal third and fourth sets of analyses: the examination of the relationship between personality traits and political attitudes. These analyses show that the majority of covariance between personality and attitudes was due to shared genetic variance while the relationship between the idiosyncratic environmental components of politics and personality was notably smaller.  Furthermore, the majority of genetic influence on attitudes was not explained by the genetic influence on personality traits. In total, the Cholesky analyses validate the possibility of an alternative relationship between personality traits and political attitudes, whereby a latent common genetic factor drives the development of both personality traits and political attitudes."

So genetics lie behind both personality and political attitudes but the relationships are complex and still not clear.  Complexity is of course routinely encountered in studies of behaviour genetics -- JR

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