Genopolitics: How our genes are affecting our political thinking

A growing body of evidence is suggesting that genetics has a subtle but measurable influence on our political views. While our genes can't fill out our ballots for us, the relative position of a person on a liberal to conservative scale may be somewhat predictable through genes. This is called genopolitics.

Obviously, political opinions don't come in one specific "political opinion" gene that you get from your parents at conception, but the idea behind genopolitics is that genes can influence something in our brains that then influences how political opinions are developed.

Research points to the amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional learning, as having an important influence on our political beliefs. Two different studies, one British and one American, have shown results that indicate this. The American study showed that research volunteers who began to sweat more when hearing a startling noise were also more likely to be in favor of capital punishment and the Iraq War, suggesting a link between some conservative beliefs and an enhanced emotional response. The British study showed that conservatives had larger amygdalae than liberals, also suggesting that emotions may play more of a part in conservatism than in liberalism.

The thing to remember with these potential conclusions is that there's a lot going on when it comes to political opinions, and that all sorts of factors influence personal politics. There may be other genetic factors that we haven't discovered yet, but it's virtually certain that genes alone don't, by themselves, make anyone a conservative or a liberal. What these studies are suggesting is that there seems to be a relationship of some kind between some genetic traits and emotional responses, which may play a role in how people make the political choices that they do. So, it's not that genes control political belief, it's more that genes may influence how political judgments are derived.

Genopolitics is certainly still in its infancy. It's clear enough that genes have some sort of impact on an individual's political development, but defining that impact is still out of reach. The conclusion that conservatives have more of a response to emotional stimuli than liberals do is vastly oversimplifying matters, and is far too little to build a scientific foundation on. For better or worse, it's not all as simple as a gene that decides whether we're left or right handed.

Via BBC Future

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