Getting down to particulars, Alford and Hibbing found that people tended to be either “absolutist” (suspicious of groups that challenged the prevailing social order, seeking unity for their own particular group, desirous of strong leadership, unbendingly moral, willing to tolerate inequality and pessimistic about human nature) or “contextualist” (tolerant toward those challenging groups; less focused on rules; suspicious of hierarchies, certainties and strong leadership; and optimistic about human nature). As Alford and Hibbing put it, “All of these vexing perennial dichotomies are related cultural expressions of a deep-seated genetic divide,” and “the prospects for eliminating this divide are not promising.” In effect, part of the nation’s political polarization then and now was and is a result not of rationally argued philosophical differences but of genetics.

A new study, employing a database of 20,000 twins from various countries, populations and periods, has confirmed and elaborated on those findings. It announced what it called “definitive evidence that genetic heritability has some role in the formation of political ideology,” and it concluded that the influence of these genetic factors on ideology remained uniform over places and periods, while the influence of environmental factors varied. So not only was genetics a factor in our political attitudes, it was a constant factor.

This, however, was just the beginning. Other studies, conducted by James Fowler at the University of California at San Diego with a graduate student named Christopher Dawes, indicated that the likelihood of voting was partly inherited and traced it to an individual gene that helps the brain synthesize molecules needed to reabsorb serotonin, which is released by stress. The idea is that people who can handle stress better are more likely to withstand the stresses of political participation. A later study by the same researchers indicated that political intensity was also partly genetic, in this case traceable to a gene that enhances the flow to the brain of dopamine, which has been found to affect group attachments such as the attachment one might have to a political party.

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3 Comments

  • dave gerstle says:

    So I guess this is one of those hard-hitting reports that has made Playboy Magazine the go-to source for accountable scientific reporting. That is almost funny enough to distract from the sad fact that twin studies are given any credence at all. Last time I checked, it is not 1944 and this is not Auschwitz.

    Give me a break, TVOL.

  • Anthony L. says:

    Twin studies are a widely accepted methodology for measuring the relationship between genetic and phenotypic variation.  Yes, some of the assumptions may at times be problematic, but this is why twin studies are often used as a “first step” toward understanding the phenotypic effects of genetic differences between individuals.  For example, twin studies may alert us to the fact that variation in phenotypic trait X correlates with genetic differences between individuals.  But then we may want to know more; for example, which genes influence behavior, and in interaction with what cues in the environment?  This requires other methodologies, such as allelic association studies.  Twin studies are the beginning, not the end, of analyses regarding the biological bases of behavior, and most if not all of the authors surveyed in the article recognize this fact.
    Importantly, although you allude to the errors of social darwinism, all of the leading “biopolitics” scholars are careful to avoid the naturalistic fallacy and are very aware of avoiding the pitfalls of previous social ills, such as eugenics.

  • Dave Gerstle says:

    I must have missed the part of this article that explains how these authors demonstrate a profound sensitivity to eugenics, social darwinism, and the historical track record that their kind of theorizing in producing abhorrent social policies.

    Wait… that must be because this article does not go into these matters at all. Perhaps this is because it is published in Playboy, which does not hold people accountable for the legitimacy or consequences of claims that they have “definitive evidence that genetic heritability has some role in the formation of political ideology”.

    But TVOL does, or purports to anyway. By virtue of its methods and the motives of its predecessors, the research discussed in this article is suspect. Playboy can publish however much sensationalist crap they want, but the editors of this website claim to hold high standards for their own reporting. The same should be true for the source materials that appear here, now with the passive or explicit stamp of approval from the editorial board.

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