Ideology gene

I was talking with a friend last night about how I would so hate for one of my kids to be like Alex P. Keaton.   David’s already a good liberal, but I know these things change.  Of course, I may have already made my greatest contribution through genetic inheritance.  I think one of the coolest PS studies in recent years examined the political attitudes of identical and fraternal twins to tease out the contribution of genetics versus environment (here’s a summary).   Short version: political attitudes seem to be roughly 50% genetic.

That being said, it’s not all that surprising that scientists have now been able to actually identify a gene that contributes to political attitudes.  How exactly?  Basically, by making a person more open to new and different experiences.   From a surprisingly good Fox News story:

A new study has concluded that ideology is not just a social thing; it’s built into the DNA, borne along by a gene called DRD4. Tagged “the liberal gene,” DRD4 is the first specific bit of human DNA that predisposes people to certain political views, the study’s authors claim.

And the key to it all: Liberals are more open, said lead researcherJames H. Fowler, a professor of both medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego.

“The way openness is measured, it’s really about receptivity to different lifestyles, for example, or different norms or customs,” he told “We hypothesize that individuals with a genetic predisposition toward seeking out new experiences [a measure of openness] will tend to be more liberal” — but only if they had a number of friends when growing up, Fowler cautioned.

Funny thing is, personally, I’m not particularly receptive to different norms, customs, etc.  Though I did have plenty of friends :-).   Actually, I’ve always felt that were I raised in a different environment it would have been quite easy for me to be a conservative, as my natural dispositions seem to run in that direction.  Most likely, I owe my mom for straightening me out.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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