Can boffins really work out your politics from your genes?

Can boffins really work out your politics from your genes?

Cambridge University Press

Could your politics be determined by your genetic make-up?

Like most PB regulars, I guess, I’ve always assumed that a person’s political ideology is determined by family environment and friends. New research suggests something different.

For liberals, at least, may owe their political outlook partly to their genetic make-up, according to researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard University. Ideology is affected not just by social factors, but also by a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4.

The study’s authors say this is the first research to identify a specific gene that predisposes people to certain political views.

Appearing in the latest edition of The Journal of Politics published by Cambridge University Press, the research focused on 2,000 subjects. By matching genetic information with maps of the subjects’ social networks, the researchers were able to show that people with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults, but only if they had an active social life in adolescence.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter affecting brain processes that control movement, emotional response, and ability to experience pleasure and pain. Previous research has identified a connection between a variant of this gene and personality traits related to political liberalism.

Lead Researcher James H. Fowler of UC San Diego and his colleagues hypothesized that people with the gene variant would be more interested in learning about their friends’ points of view. As a consequence, people with this genetic predisposition who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average.

They reported that “it is the crucial interaction of two factors—the genetic predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence—that is associated with being more liberal.” The research team also showed that this held true independent of ethnicity, culture, sex, or age.

What worries me is that if they can identify liberals through this gene could some future totalitarian regime use this science to round those of this disposition up and neutralise them? This could be scary.

Mike Smithson

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