Ideology in Your DNA? Not Quite.

By
Friday, September 19, 2008 at 6:16 pm

A story today in the The Los Angeles Times on a study about biology and politics starts with: “Die-hard liberals and conservatives aren’t made; they’re born. It’s literally in their DNA.”

Intrigued, I called the study’s head researcher, Douglas Oxley of the University of Nebraska, to see if he agreed with this conclusion.

“In some ways [the study has] been misinterpreted,” said Oxley. He said that his study didn’t find a link between DNA and political leanings. “We could have things happen to us in the womb or later in life that could cause” physiological and ideological differences.

The study, released yesterday, tested the physiological responses of 46 participants to various threatening images, like bloody faces. It found that people who self-identified as “in favor of socially protective policies” responded much more strongly to the stimuli than people who held more liberal views on such issues as welfare, abortion, immigration, gay rights and school prayer.

The researchers concluded that people of different ideological persuasions have divergent physiological reactions, and that people with socially conservative views tend to be more shocked by potentially threatening stimuli.

“Some people have said that we’re calling conservatives ‘frightened’ or something along those lines,” Oxley said. “And we’re not. All we’re suggesting is that there’s a physiological difference between people who hold one set of political beliefs and people who hold another set of political beliefs.”

The study had its limitations — the sample size was small and all of the subjects were white Nebraskans — but it’s still a small step toward a greater understanding our ever-increasing ideological divide, even if the answer doesn’t lie in our genes.

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Comments

19 Comments

Grant Smith
Comment posted September 21, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

More like “not necessarily.” Sounds to me like the researcher wanted to say whatever causes the difference is unknown, which isn't surprising, because that wasn't what was being studied. You wouldn't know that from the LA times article, but you wouldn't know it from this article either. The thing that one should be able to take away from this study is that there is a relationship between at least one specific behavioral characteristic and political affiliation. Whether or not these findings will be replicated remains to be discovered. The cause of this behavioral characteristic would have to be discovered through an entirely different experiment. What doesn't remain to be discovered though, is your opinion regarding the role genes play on behavior.


Josiah Rowe
Comment posted September 28, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

The notion that we're born with political leanings is nothing new. 126 years ago, Gilbert and Sullivan had a guard outside the Houses of Parliament reflect,

“I often think it comical
(Tra la la la, tra la la la)
That nature always doth contrive
(Tra la la la, la)
That ev'ry boy and ev'ry gal
That's born into this world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.”


Josiah Rowe
Comment posted September 28, 2008 @ 7:30 pm

The notion that we're born with political leanings is nothing new. 126 years ago, Gilbert and Sullivan had a guard outside the Houses of Parliament reflect,

“I often think it comical
(Tra la la la, tra la la la)
That nature always doth contrive
(Tra la la la, la)
That ev'ry boy and ev'ry gal
That's born into this world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.”


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