“Man is, by nature, a political animal” Aristotle
Our genes are known to influence many of our characteristics but there is no evidence to show that they influence our beliefs. Beliefs such as religion or political views are usually highly influenced either by shared or personal environments (society or personal experiences). However, political behavior might have a genetic basis to it. Today I’m presenting a review that was published in 2008 in the one of the world’s leading scientific journals that talks about the genetics of politics: Science .
What it really means : There is a genetic element to our deep rooted political beliefs.
While on one hand political scientists have been studying and theorizing for years about political attitudes and what influences these (are political choices influenced by our parents, socioeconomic factors or by political institutions?), on the other hand, biologists and psychologists have been trying to understand the biology behind political beliefs and political engagement. The time has come for both disciplines to work together!
Twin studies have been a bit controversial on what is heritable in a belief. Even though most studies argue that genes are involved in our political choice, a study appeared in the American Political Science Review suggests that liberal and conservative ideologies are heritable. However when talking about political behavior/engagement rather than belief, all these studies are aligned in confirming a genetic role.
Political behavior in itself is a complex trait , uniting many small traits such as pro-social behavior, altruism, bargaining, risk-taking and hedonism. These personality traits lend to the more complex behavior of a human being, pushing him to become either a helper or a cause fighter which in a way can be used as markers for political engagement.
A study, out in 2008, examined the heritability of voter participation by matching voter registration and twin studies registry. The analysis showed that both genes and environment significantly contributed to the variation in political participation.
Another study wondered about the variation of economic behavior ( which also is related to politics) by performing a “trust” game to twins . One of the two (anonymous) decides how much he will invest in another subject. This amount is tripled by the researcher and the recipient decides how much to return to the investor. The crazy and awesome thing about that is that the behavior of both the investor and the recipient was significantly heritable. This means that genetic variation seems to contribute to cooperative behavior.
Now while all of these studies and many others demonstrated the involvement of genetics in political behavior, what precisely are the genes that are involved ?
Dopamine and Serotonin, both important hormones involved in many cellular process have been shown to be involved in many personality traits related to political behavior. One of many studies shows a direct relation between one gene (DRD2) which is a serotonin transporter and the voter turnout as well as with the tendency to affiliate with a political party.
These are just a few examples of the myriad studies connecting politics and genetics. There are still many things to do to fully understand the link between our biological or genetic makeup and our political beliefs and it will require the close co-operation between political scientists and biologists to unravel all the secrets.