Getting down to particulars, Alford and Hibbing found that people tended to be either “absolutist” (suspicious of groups that challenged the prevailing social order, seeking unity for their own particular group, desirous of strong leadership, unbendingly moral, willing to tolerate inequality and pessimistic about human nature) or “contextualist” (tolerant toward those challenging groups; less focused on rules; suspicious of hierarchies, certainties and strong leadership; and optimistic about human nature). As Alford and Hibbing put it, “All of these vexing perennial dichotomies are related cultural expressions of a deep-seated genetic divide,” and “the prospects for eliminating this divide are not promising.” In effect, part of the nation’s political polarization then and now was and is a result not of rationally argued philosophical differences but of genetics.
A new study, employing a database of 20,000 twins from various countries, populations and periods, has confirmed and elaborated on those findings. It announced what it called “definitive evidence that genetic heritability has some role in the formation of political ideology,” and it concluded that the influence of these genetic factors on ideology remained uniform over places and periods, while the influence of environmental factors varied. So not only was genetics a factor in our political attitudes, it was a constant factor.
This, however, was just the beginning. Other studies, conducted by James Fowler at the University of California at San Diego with a graduate student named Christopher Dawes, indicated that the likelihood of voting was partly inherited and traced it to an individual gene that helps the brain synthesize molecules needed to reabsorb serotonin, which is released by stress. The idea is that people who can handle stress better are more likely to withstand the stresses of political participation. A later study by the same researchers indicated that political intensity was also partly genetic, in this case traceable to a gene that enhances the flow to the brain of dopamine, which has been found to affect group attachments such as the attachment one might have to a political party.
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