Heritability, political views and personality

Not long after my recent post on the heritability of political views, Chris Mooney of The Intersection has posted on another article (with follow-up by Razib at Gene Expression) supporting the well-established finding that political views are heritable. The research found evidence for linkage between political beliefs and genes.

I’ll post in more detail on the article at another time (I’ve sat on it for a few months now, so another couple won’t matter), but some of the discussion is interesting. How do genetic influences flow through to political beliefs, particularly when what we consider to be conservative or liberal varies through time? As Razib writes:

The disposition toward conservatism and liberalism does not manifest in absolute tendencies, but attitudes and actions comprehensible only against a reference which allows for one’s own bias to come to the fore. This is why heritabilities of being conservative and liberal can remain the same over time and across cultures, even though conservative and liberal can mean very different things in different contexts.

We are observing the manifestation of personality in varied environments. It is not support for civil unions that will be found to have a consistent genetic basis, but rather the openness or agreeableness that might lead you to support or oppose it in certain environments.

It is for that reason that only yesterday I was writing how I should re-frame my discussion of the heritability of political attitudes in terms of intelligence and the big-five personality traits. Those personality traits line up fairly consistently with the conservative-liberal divide. However, across different times and places, the link between personality and specific issues is much looser. There will a pile of studies over the next few years finding heritability of a host of traits and beliefs, together with possible genetic associations. While each might seem unique, many of them will be manifestations of the same personality traits.

Author: Jason Collins

Economics. Behavioural and data science. PhD economics and evolutionary biology. Blog at jasoncollins.blog

2 thoughts on “Heritability, political views and personality”

  1. The disposition toward conservatism and liberalism does not manifest in absolute tendencies

    But this is wrong. The gap between conservative and liberal tendencies is absolutist, and is widening. Some examples of the widening gap between affilitation are increasing partisanship, a deadlocked congress, and increasing Salam-Douthat stratification on cognitive ability.
    SNT(social network theory), EGT (Evolutionary Game Theory), SBH (social brain hypothesis) are all contributing theories to an emergent body of work on increasing absolutism in political affiliation. Which is partly based on biology.

    1. You are talking about relative, not absolute positions. And even on relative positions, I am doubtful that the gap is actually widening. Take slavery, whether the state should own a country’s manufacturing capacity or school segregation. What was once a wide divide is now near consensus – and that is the point – the absolute position that a conservative or liberal holds on an issue will change with context and environment.

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