Studies have shown that developing one’s political ideology is based not only on social surroundings, but also on heredity. Yet, so far there have been no studies that identify the exact gene variations that can affect political beliefs. This study attempted to quantify the effects of genes (a specific variant of the Dopamine gene) and social surroundings (for example, friendships) on political beliefs. The results of the study showed that the studied genetic variant along with the number of friends that a person makes allows for a more liberal political philosophy.
Research on development of one’s political philosophy has spoken about the influence of “groups and their relationships to the whole of society.” On the other hand, there are studies which say that some people may inherit certain political ideologies from their parents. Researchers of this study, however, believe that, “social and genetic theories about the nature and origin of political ideology need not be at odds with one another. In fact, it is likely that genes influence political ideology by partially regulating the way we react to the total social context.” This study was conducted to look at the interplay between certain genes and certain social influences on the formation of one’s political ideologies.
- A total of 2,574 adolescents, many of whom were pairs of siblings, were included from a national study called the “National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health).”
- A specific variation (7R) of a gene called DRD4 was studied on both chromosomes of a pair in these participants. A subject was said to have the variation if he/she had a different pattern on both the chromosomes (7R alleles).
- Participants were questioned regarding their social groups/networks by asking them to name five female and five male friends.
- After a period of time, when the participants were young adults, with ages ranging between 18 and 26, they were asked questions regarding their political and civic behavior.
- In this study, 62% of the participants did not have the genetic variant 7R on either of the chromosomes of a pair, 33% had the variation on only one chromosome and 5% had a variation on both their chromosomes.
- Results showed that a participant with a greater number of friends, and who had the 7R variant on both chromosomes of the pair, was 40% more likely to be liberal, compared to those participants with friends, but without the genetic variation.
- The authors write, “10 friends can move a person with two copies of the 7R allele almost halfway from being conservative to moderate or from being moderate to liberal.”
The authors admit that genetic variation and their actual association with real life behaviors is often ill-defined. They assert that the level of association between the two factors of genes and social influence on political ideas may be weak due to the complexity of genetic influences. Further studies in this direction may unravel the influence of these and other factors on political ideologies. Another shortcoming observed was that “self-reporting” of one’s political leanings may be erroneous.
This is a pioneer study that looks at the combined effect of genes and friendships on political ideologies. Although results demonstrate that people with the specific gene variant and a higher number of friends tend to be more liberal, researchers warn that they should be interpreted with caution. They note that the genetic change “by itself does not make a person liberal and neither does simply having a greater number of friends as a teenager.” The genetic variation alone also “does not cause an individual to have more friends.” On the contrary, studies of this kind allow political scientists to shape theories about likely gene-environment connections that affect strong political thoughts and ideals.
For More Information:
Friendships Influence the Association between Genes and Political Ideology
The Journal of Politics, October 2010
By Jaime E. Settle; Christopher T. Dawes
From the University of California, San Diego, California