Friday, November 03, 2006

Political Affiliation: Nature or Nurture

I thought this headline was rather interesting. I don't know if I believe it, but anyway, have a read:

Conservative or liberal? It may be in the genes

LINCOLN, Neb. — Politics may not be in the blood, but it could be in the genes.

That's the theory a team of political scientists and geneticists is trying to prove with extensive studies of twins, genes and brain scans.

“I perfectly understand that some people are skeptical,” said John R. Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is involved in the research.

The idea goes back more than 2000 years, said John Alford, associate professor of political science at Rice University, who is working with Hibbing.
Genetic researchers are trying to prove that social attitudes can be inherited, and have discovered strong correlations between the two.

So far, the political connection has relied on studies by Lindon Eaves, professor of human genetics and psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University. About 8,000 sets of identical and fraternal twins answered a series of questions on topics such as school prayer, nuclear power, women's liberation and the death penalty.

Identical twins, who share their entire genetic code, answered more similarly than fraternal twins, who are no more similar than non-twin siblings.

If you assume that both identical and fraternal twins share an environment, then the disparity between the results must be genetic, Mr. Hibbing and colleagues conclude.

Some scientists, however, are not ready to embrace the theory.

“The very idea that something like a political ideology could be heritable is incoherent,” said Evan Charney, assistant professor of public policy and political science at Duke University. “It doesn't make any sense, and it's historically inaccurate.”

Any similarities found in twins' political beliefs can be attributed to environment, not genetics, Mr. Charney said.

Mr. Charney's paper “Genes and Ideologies,” written to argue many of Mr. Hibbing and Mr. Alford's claims, is being considered for publication by the Review of Politics, Mr. Charney said. He recently presented the work to the American Political Science Association.

“I have not proved that environment has caused this, but neither have they proved that genes have caused this,” Mr. Charney said.

And environment, he said, is a far more plausible explanation.

Mr. Hibbing agrees his research isn't definitive.

“No specific (genes) have been connected to political traits,” Mr. Hibbing said. “That is our group's main goal.”

But social scientists typically dismiss genetic influence, and that's a mistake, he said.

Source: Globe and Mail


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be difficult to find a liberal gene because my understanding is that its all so complicated. The work of psychiatrists is interesting they think several genes plus the environment account say for mental illness- much bigger in life than political persuasion- so I'm not sure about this. Good post though.

Fri Nov 03, 11:46:00 PM EST  

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