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Can genes explain our voting behavior?

Posted December 8, 2014

Cutting-edge research suggests that genetic differences can account for differences in political behaviour. However, exact causal mechanisms are still unknown. American and swedish scientists combined their forces to investigate what psychological mechanisms mediate genetic influence on such actions, as voting.

Picture: Voting. Image credit: Kheel Center via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Picture: Voting. Image credit: Kheel Center via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

“Overall, genes account for the lion’s share of the overlap between psychological traits and political behaviors we focus on, but the size of this overlap is relatively modest,” the authors of the study published in American Journal of Political Science claim.

It is well-documented that psychological factors such as personality traits exert influence on civic engagement. The fact that character traits are heritable suggests that there can be a complex relationship among psychological factors, genes and political behavior.

“An empirical link between genes, personality traits, and political participation has yet to be established. This article seeks to explore the relationship between all three using a uniquely assembled and comprehensive genetically informative data set with information on personality, cognitive ability, and a wide range of political attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors,” the scholars say. They attempted to find out what is the influence of three traits which is often mentioned in the literature on this subject matter: cognitive ability, personal control, and extraversion.

In order to tackle these problem researchers analyzed answers of more than two thousand twin pairs from Sweden. “It is one of the first studies to ask a very large sample of twins an extensive battery of questions about engagement in well studied political activities as well as predispositions toward politics. Our sample also contains measures of psychological traits, allowing us to explore the conjecture that genes influence political participation indirectly through these traits,” the psychologists claim.

On the one hand, results of their study suggest that high percentage of the association between psychological factors and political behaviors can be explained by the same set of genes. On the other hand, psychologists failed to demonstrate that cognitive ability, personal control and extraversion are not the only mediators of genetic factors. This finding sets the promising research agenda for future studies.

Article: Dawes, C., Cesarini, D., Fowler, J. H., Johannesson, M., Magnusson, P. K. E. and Oskarsson, S. (2014), The Relationship between Genes, Psychological Traits, and Political Participation. American Journal of Political Science, 58: 888–903. doi: 10.1111/ajps.12100, source link.

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