Heritability, political views and personality


Jason Collins


June 17, 2011

Chris Mooney of The Intersection has posted on another article (with follow-up by Razib at Gene Expression) supporting the well-established finding that political views are heritable. The research found evidence for linkage between political beliefs and genes.

Some of the discussion is interesting. How do genetic influences flow through to political beliefs, particularly when what we consider to be conservative or liberal varies through time? As Razib writes:

The disposition toward conservatism and liberalism does not manifest in absolute tendencies, but attitudes and actions comprehensible only against a reference which allows for one’s own bias to come to the fore. This is why heritabilities of being conservative and liberal can remain the same over time and across cultures, even though conservative and liberal can mean very different things in different contexts.

We are observing the manifestation of personality in varied environments. It is not support for civil unions that will be found to have a consistent genetic basis, but rather the openness or agreeableness that might lead you to support or oppose it in certain environments.

It is for that reason that only yesterday I was writing how I should re-frame my discussion of the heritability of political attitudes in terms of intelligence and the big-five personality traits. Those personality traits line up fairly consistently with the conservative-liberal divide. However, across different times and places, the link between personality and specific issues is much looser. There will a pile of studies over the next few years finding heritability of a host of traits and beliefs, together with possible genetic associations. While each might seem unique, many of them will be manifestations of the same personality traits.