Can genes make us liberal or conservative?

August 4, 2015
A depiction of the double helical structure of DNA. Its four coding units (A, T, C, G) are color-coded in pink, orange, purple and yellow. Credit: NHGRI

Aristotle may have been more on the money than he realised in saying man is a political animal, according to research published Wednesday linking genes with liberal or conservative leanings.

Or, to be precise, a specific variant of one gene that would seem to exert greater sway over women than men.

Working with 1771 of Han Chinese origin in Singapore, researchers compared answers to surveys—including one tailored to hot-button issues in the city-state—with the presence of a permutation of the DRD4 gene.

DRD4 is one of several that determines the way dopamine—a crucial neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger—is released in the brain.

What they found was a robust link between the presence (or not) of the variant and a split between liberals inclined to decry inequality, on the one hand, and die-hard conservative wary of change, on the other.

"The association between political attitude and DRD4 was highly significant for females," and less so for men, said the study, led by Richard Ebstein of the National University of Singapore.

Women, it was also shown, tended to be more conservative in general.

The results are bolstered by earlier research based on people of European descent that found similar patterns around the same gene, according to the study.

In the long-standing "Nature vs. Nurture" debate, it was long assumed that social values—and especially political ones—were rooted in family upbringing, education and class.

But a growing body of evidence suggests, in the words of the researchers, that "biology can't be ignored."

A landmark study published in 1999, for example, of twins separated at or near birth showed a marked strain of heritability for 'conservatism'.

The brain is wired with several distinct dopamine pathways, including one related to the risk-taking—arguably a parallel to the liberal-conservative dichotomy.

From an evolutionary standpoint, risk-taking is a complicated business: in some situations, it may enhance one's chances of success or survival, and in others it may spell doom.

In the study, the researchers used standard questionnaires to rate conservative or liberal tendencies, making it easier to compare with earlier efforts to uncover links between genes and attitudes.

At the same time, to adjust for cultural variations from one country to another, they also devised a survey based on local issues known to divide opinion in Singapore along political lines.

One set of questions, for example, asked the students—half men, half women with a mean age of 21—to take positions on sensitive environmental and animal rights issues.

The correlation with the genetic variations was especially strong on these points.

"Our results provide evidence," Ebstein and colleagues conclude, "for a role of the DRD4 gene variants in contributing to individual differences in political attitude, particularly in females."

Explore further: Researchers find a 'liberal gene'

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56 comments

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verkle
Aug 04, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
sfarrar
1 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2015
What about identical twins? One a Lib the other a right winger?
abecedarian
5 / 5 (3) Aug 05, 2015
Blame liberals for their genes, blame homosexuals for their genes, blame criminals for their genes. This blame sounding game has gone on for some 20 years now. It must stop. Time to take personal responsibility for all of our actions.

No, I will not take personal responsibility for all of our actions.
I will be responsible for my actions.
In kind... you do like to be kind to others, right?... you can be responsible for yours.
leetennant
4.1 / 5 (8) Aug 05, 2015
I'm sorry but I fail to see how breaking down political concepts into a binary liberal/conservative dichotomoy - one only seen to any large extent in the US - is inherently flawed.
verkle
Aug 05, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (9) Aug 05, 2015
Define 'liberal'.
Define 'conservative'.
I define 'liberal' as promoting and supporting state control of the individual and his property.
A conservative opposes state control of the individual and his property.

" a survey based on local issues known to divide opinion in Singapore along political lines."
Sounds quite subjective and not very scientific.
robertg222
2.1 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2015
So being liberal is a genetic illness. Lets hope they find a cure soon.
billy noone
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2015
Sounds like the same junk science that says you're born gay. In general you are what your parents are assuming they take an active interest in your life. If not, you are what the government school system makes you which is a left wing liberal. Women lean towards liberalism because they, in general, seek security which the liberal confiscate and redistribute mentality provides.
damuson
1 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2015
Cool. Maybe we can identify the liberal gene and perform abortions based on a fetus having it.
Gay gene too, lets abort teh gay babies before they are born..
dogbert
3 / 5 (4) Aug 05, 2015
The desire to blame something beyond our control for our own actions is almost universal and is universally wrong.

Attempts to use science to bolster this tendency toward shifting blame are depressingly common.

Actions are choices and for each choice we make, we bear the responsibility for that choice.
docile
Aug 05, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
mlgaunnac
4 / 5 (4) Aug 05, 2015
Then let's rejoice with loud Fal la – Fal la la!
That Nature always does contrive – Fal lal la!
That every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!
Fal lal la!

W, S. Gilbert - Iolanthe
docile
Aug 05, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
sheldavemiller
2.3 / 5 (9) Aug 05, 2015
I grew up a liberal and then became conservative. God Bless evolution:-)
ForFreeMinds
2.2 / 5 (13) Aug 05, 2015
So being liberal is a genetic illness. Lets hope they find a cure soon.


There is a study showing that conservatives understand liberals, but liberals do not understand conservatives. The study simply asks participants to answer questions as themselves, as they believe liberals would answer and as conservatives would answer. And it clearly shows the most liberal are unable to answer the questions as conservatives would, which is a mental deficit IMHO.
http://reason.com...is-way/2 halfway down the page
ForFreeMinds
2.2 / 5 (10) Aug 05, 2015
So being liberal is a genetic illness. Lets hope they find a cure soon.


There is a study showing that conservatives understand liberals, but liberals do not understand conservatives. The study simply asks participants to answer questions as themselves, as they believe liberals would answer and as conservatives would answer. And it clearly shows the most liberal are unable to answer the questions as conservatives would, which is a mental deficit IMHO.
http://reason.com...is-way/2 halfway down the page
gkam
2.2 / 5 (9) Aug 05, 2015
Conservatives are greedy and scared.

Period.
whisperin_pines
3.3 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2015
Winston Churchill - "If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain."

People have a tendency to change as they age, awkwardly revealing that genetics have nothing to do with political affiliation.
gkam
2 / 5 (8) Aug 05, 2015
Actually, what we have seen is this: "If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no Alzheimers."

Billy_Madison
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2015
People have a tendency to change as they age, awkwardly revealing that genetics have nothing to do with political affiliation.


I do not think people necessarily change. I personally believe a person's philosophies at ages 20 +/- become outdated or more conservative with age. A conservative's beliefs today would be very similar to ~liberal~ (hate that word) beliefs 30 years ago.

tl;dr - blame time
DoggyDaddy
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2015
Liberals are intolerant and foolish.

Period.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2015
"Liberals are intolerant and foolish."
---------------------------------

Foolish? Paid for them Bush Wars of Mass Killing and Profit?

No?
viko_mx
1 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2015
The humans is not animals but the only moral being on this planet thanks to the will of the Creator. Aristotle did not have the necessary knowledge of genetics and micro bioology to make accurate predictions.
gkam
3.7 / 5 (9) Aug 05, 2015
"The humans is not animals"
---------------------------

Yes, they is.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2015
A conservative's beliefs today would be very similar to ~liberal~ (hate that word) beliefs 30 years ago.


Conservatives today believe what many believed over 200 years ago about liberty and property.
gkam
3.3 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2015
"Conservatives today believe what many believed over 200 years ago about liberty and property."
-----------------------------------------

Yeah, back when they hanged pickpockets and anybody else they wanted.
perkinsethan43
1.7 / 5 (10) Aug 05, 2015
Read "The Origin of Our Left-wing Species" by John Hayberry. This study of the DRD4 gene indicates that his theory regarding fantasy addiction disorder is correct. You will never understand liberals until you read this book, which also discusses PETS theory. You can buy it at a discount on Amazon.com.
perkinsethan43
1.4 / 5 (11) Aug 05, 2015
It's time to stop pretending that there is no identifiable genetic difference between (abnormal) liberals and (normal) conservatives. Liberals should be discouraged from serving in a governing capacity.
perkinsethan43
1.2 / 5 (10) Aug 05, 2015
Liberals are dangerous and bad for business. Everything they touch turns into mold.
barakn
4 / 5 (8) Aug 05, 2015
A conservative's beliefs today would be very similar to ~liberal~ (hate that word) beliefs 30 years ago.


Conservatives today believe what many believed over 200 years ago about liberty and property. -soggyring2
That it's ok to own Africans and Irish as slaves?
viko_mx
1.7 / 5 (9) Aug 05, 2015
The liberalism is mental disorder which represent the inability of man for sober assessment of reality according to universal moral standart and criteria for good and evil given to us by the Creator. Liberalism is synonymous with moral relativism or lack of principles. This ideology destroys God's order in human society and is a direct consequence of blind faith in evolutionary mythology.
alephcheth
2 / 5 (8) Aug 05, 2015
Conservatives are biologically programmed to be appalled by Planned Parenthood's dissection of Liberal babies and the subsequent sale of their body parts. Whereas, Liberals celebrate their freedom to crush their unborn babies' skulls to raise money so they can abort even more babies in the future -- the majority of which are black. If Conservatives were murdering and tearing apart black babies for profit, it would be an outrage and cause for civil war. But when Liberals do it, it's for the benefit of women's health.
docile
Aug 05, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
leetennant
4 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2015
Just realised my comment (below) said "is inherently flawed" when it should have said "isn't". As in "I fail to see how breaking down political concepts dichotomously ISN'T inherently flawed".

The fact that 3/4 of the comments since I said that have been ranting monologues about domestic US politics kind of supports that.

I'm sorry but I fail to see how breaking down political concepts into a binary liberal/conservative dichotomoy - one only seen to any large extent in the US - is inherently flawed.

fay
5 / 5 (1) Aug 06, 2015
this is bad news wherever you stand (me personally libertarian) because it says discussion is futile, you wont ever convince the other side. The only way to get it your way is to either manipulate the other side without them noticing it or simply just by brute force. I think this pretty much agrees with empiric evidence.
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) Aug 06, 2015
A conservative's beliefs today would be very similar to ~liberal~ (hate that word) beliefs 30 years ago.


Conservatives today believe what many believed over 200 years ago about liberty and property. -soggyring2
That it's ok to own Africans and Irish as slaves?

Why do you ask?
Is it ok to murder and butcher babies and sell their body parts?

BTW, it was Christian activists in UK that shamed their MPs to abolish slavery in the British Empire.
It was Christian activists in the US that broke the law to help slaves escape.
It is Christian activists today the buy and free slaves.
There is no justification for slavery in the words of Jesus.
gkam
2.6 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2015
"There is no justification for slavery in the words of Jesus."
-------------------------------

Let us not debate fantasy here.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2015
It depends on how tight those jeans are...oh wait...GENES...yeah...NO.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2015
BTW, it was Christian activists in UK that shamed their MPs to abolish slavery in the British Empire
While at the same time xian activists in africa and south america continued to enslave them and buy them from local tribal chieftans.

EVERYBODY WAS XIAN BACK THEN. Why do keep forgetting this very important point ryggy?
It was Christian activists in the US that broke the law to help slaves escape
-And it was xian activists in the south that required a war to end it there.
It is Christian activists today the buy and free slaves.
There is no justification for slavery in the words of Jesus
Another ignorant godder...

Eph6:5-8 "5Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;"

1 Tim6:1-2 "1All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against."
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2015
Colossians 4:1 "1Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven."

-But dont bother granting them freedom.

Religionists like ryggy dont have to read their book - they KNOW what its supposed to say.
Is it ok to murder and butcher babies and sell their body parts?
-Religions force the kind of population overgrowth that makes abortion necessary in the world today. This has always been their strategy for outgrowing and overrunning their enemies.

Without the ONE BILLION abortions which occurred during the last 100 years the world would have already destroyed itself.

Reliigionists would prefer that all the excess people live to adolescence and then die on the battlefield.

Abortion has nothing to do with womens rights or health apart from the freedom from malnutrition or standing in breadlines.

Without religion, abortion would be rare.

Abortion and all the horrors that ensue, are the fault of religion.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2015
Abortion statistics
http://www.johnst...313.html

-Read it and weep for all the misery that religion has caused.
Zzzzzzzz
5 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2015
Define 'liberal'.
Define 'conservative'.
I define 'liberal' as promoting and supporting state control of the individual and his property.
A conservative opposes state control of the individual and his property.
- ryggesogn2

No surprise that you get that wrong as well, like all the rest
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2015
Let us not debate fantasy here.

Fantasy or not.
Christians believed it.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Aug 06, 2015
Define 'liberal'.
Define 'conservative'.
I define 'liberal' as promoting and supporting state control of the individual and his property.
A conservative opposes state control of the individual and his property.
- ryggesogn2

No surprise that you get that wrong as well, like all the rest

Objectively define 'liberal'.
Objectively define 'conservative'.
NiteSkyGerl
Aug 06, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
leetennant
5 / 5 (1) Aug 06, 2015
Did you guys all get together and decide to prove my point or did that just happen organically?
Doug_Huffman
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2015
LOL The genetic linking of IQ is well established. Not so well established is the linking of IQ and political bent. Better is the chrono-illogical; if one is not progressive as a child then one has no heart, if one is not anti-progressive as an adult then one has no head.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Aug 06, 2015
" if one is not progressive as a child then one has no heart, if one is not anti-progressive as an adult then one has no head."
----------------------------
no, that one is too old and trite. The new one is:

If one is not progressive as a child then one has no heart, if one is not anti-progressive as an adult then one has no Alzheimers.

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Aug 07, 2015
"What, then, was the impact of natural law in the Western world's courts? Helmholz points to a number of famous cases in which the natural law clearly played a prominent role in the outcome, including Somerset's Case (1772), in which the English court found that slavery's denial of a person's natural freedom was repugnant to natural law. Along with natural law, the decision relied upon the lack of a specific English statute protecting the slave-owner's rights. The holding that resulted: a slave imported by his owner was in effect freed once he set foot on English soil. Helmholz is quick to point out that such decisions were not common and typically included references to positive law, but Somerset showed how arguments from nature could, at times, be important."
http://www.libert...ral-law/
EWH
3 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2015
Heritability rises with age
Intelligence in adults is above 0.8 heritable.
Personality traits are highly heritable ("big 5" extraversion 0.54, openness 0.57, agreeableness 0.42, neuroticism 0.48, and conscientiousness 0.49)
Only intelligence and to a lesser degree, conscientiousness are good predictive tests of job performance. No predictors including resume, education, GPA, or interview add significantly to predictions of job performance. (Hunter & Hunter)
There is no shared environmental effect ("S.E.":childhood household environment, schooling) for personality traits or intelligence in adults.
Conservatism (0.00) < age 20, heritable (0.45 - 0.65) > age 20.
Right-wing authoritarianism is equally heritable, with a S.E. correlation of less than 0.16
Same-sex attraction, behavior heritability 0.22 (Whitehead, 2011)
"Homophobia" heritability >0.36, 0.51 best-estimate (Verweij et. al. 2008)
http://blogs.disc...al-trait
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Aug 07, 2015
Conservatism

Relative to...?
EWH
3 / 5 (2) Aug 08, 2015
'Conservatism'
"Relative to?"

Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Psychological Differences
Bouchard and McGue (2003) p.27 - 28
"Martin et al. (1986) administered the 50-item version of the Wilson-Paterson Conservatism scale (WPCS) to a large sample of MZ, like-sex DZ, and unlike-sex DZ twins from the Australian twin registry. The WPC scale uses a "catch phrase" format, whereby respondents are asked to indicate whether they agree with various topics (e.g., death penalty, X-rated movies, women's liberation, foreign aid, abortion, etc.) by simply circling YES, ?, or NO. [....]

Eaves et al.(1999) also replicated the Australian twin study findings in a model-fitting analysis of data from the Virginia 30,000 (using 80 kinships of twins and their relatives). They reported an average heritability of .55 (.65 for males, .45 for females) for the same 28-item version of the WPCS used by Bouchard et al. (2002)."

There are other studies using other measures.
ryggesogn2
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2015
There are other studies using other measures.

Not very objective.
EWH
1 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2015
"Not very objective."
Those other measures correlate highly with each other and give similar heritabilities. When looking at polls, attitude questionnaires and social science in general, any one scale can be intrinsically biased; confidence in the interpretation of the results grows with having different measures. Yes it would be better to have the sort of mathematical examination of construct validity, factor loading and so forth that Item Response Theory gives to other areas of psychometrics (see "Measurement Essentials" at http://www.rasch....-all.pdf ), but that doesn't make it at all likely that you will get much different results from the ones cited.

Look up the referenced papers, read them and write a substantive post and then we can talk.
ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (2) Aug 08, 2015
Those other measures correlate highly with each other and give similar heritabilities.

Still does not mean it's an objective definition of 'conservative'.

EnricM
1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2015
Short answer: NO

Long answer: NOPE

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