opinion | We are political animals. So what is the importance of genes?

McDermott and Weinschenk emphasized the risks of misinterpreting their data.

McDermott wrote via email that her conclusion “does not mean that 60 percent of ideology comes from genetic factors, but rather that about 60 percent of differences between people can be attributed to genetic factors.”

Weinschenk also added important caveats in an email:

When most people hear that something can be inherited and when they hear a certain percentage, they often think it means that for each individual, X percent of a particular trait is influenced by their genes. For example, studies show that ideology is 40% heritable. This does not mean that 40 percent of Aaron Winchink’s ideology is shaped by genes and the other 60 percent is shaped by environment. this Not What the estimation of inheritance tells you. Instead, it tells you to what extent Differences between People It is due to genetic factors.

In addition, Weinchink noted that

Just because something is influenced by genes, it does not mean that the trait cannot be changed or that genes determine the outcome or trait. Genes can be expressed (or not) depending on the environment. For example, parents exercise an important influence on ideology when people live at home (and genes play a limited role at this time); When people “leave the nest” genetic predispositions begin to influence ideology (and familial influences fade). It is clear that people have the same genes at all times, but genetic influences on ideology are expressed differently depending on the circumstances.

Given the controversial nature of these studies, McDermott, in a thoughtful email to me, described the thinking of those following these lines of investigation. That is why I will quote from it at length:

Genes influence those characteristics that would make a difference in survival over long swathes of human history. Perhaps there is not much difference but even small differences add up to huge effects when multiplied by millions of people over thousands of years. This means that the characteristics that were most likely to make a difference in survival are genetically conserved. Ideologically, what we have found over many years and many populations, tends to fall into a few basic categories: sex and reproduction; Defense within the group and discrimination outside the group; and resource allocation.

These underlying issues tend to affect all people over time in all situations. The specific issue might look different at a particular time and place: in England in the 1840s they might have looked like discussions of pornography, prostitution, slavery or otherwise. In the United States, it may now seem like abortion, transgender bathrooms, immigration, war, and luxury. But the basic political and psychological issues they exploit are exactly the same. They are expressed differently but the fundamental challenge to survival is the same.

How does this affect polarization?

McDermott noticed that

The problem is that different people solve it differently and it would be one thing if everyone just solved it for themselves, but that’s not how it works. People want everyone else to solve it the same way they do (pro-life, pro-choice, etc). So, you ask why doesn’t it converge to the universal over time like vision (all healthy people have two eyes etc)? Well, most likely because we need both tendencies in society to survive (think about sex here: you need both male and female gametes to reproduce – if you eliminate every single sex, survival won’t happen. So, we need conservatives to compete We fight and defend against people, animals, climate, etc. We need liberals to cooperate, build houses, etc. If you only have one side, you will end up with a lot of extermination.

in “Integrating genetics into the study of electoral behaviorCarissa L. Bergner And the Peter K Hatamipolitical scientists in Pennsylvania, explain that contemporary political issues can reflect the triggers or situations that humans encountered in the distant past:

Political traits, orientations, and ideologies, including such participatory actions as voting, donation, and volunteering, involve essentially the same issues of cooperation, reproduction, and survival that surround group life that our ancestors encountered.

Modern ideological issues, Bergner and Hatami continue,

The liberties, surrounding sexual mores, and parenting were reflected in the prehistoric need to access mates and ensure the survival of sons; Policy views on immigration differ little from the basic need for recognition and protection from others, as opposed to potentially “dangerous” others; Codified laws, policing, and punishment are like dealing with transgressors of mores in hunter-gatherer societies; Taxes and welfare programs mainly revolve around questions about how best to share resources for the life of the group; Foreign policy and the military are two things that are concerned with protecting the individual in the group and defending against potential outside groups.

Bergner and Hatami add:

While the nomenclature of issues and their meanings often change across time and cultures, the medium through which preferences are communicated has changed from direct, immediate, and personal (eg, person to person, collective punishment, etc.) to indirect, subtle and impersonal (eg the internet, voting for someone you’ve never met before, etc.), the fundamental relationship between the basic issues important to humans, revolving around cooperation, defense, reproduction, resources, and survival remains.

Stephen B Schneideralong with Smith and john beatingof the University of Nebraska, explain the genetic condition, and challenge—in their 2018 paper, “Genetic traits: a sign of intolerance or acceptance? The view that “acceptance of genetic influences is believed to be associated with intolerance, prejudice, the legitimization of social inequality, and laissez-faire policies.” “

Instead, using data from two nationally representative surveys of a total of 1,200 participants conducted by YouGov, all three found, first, that “genetic traits are in fact made by liberals, not conservatives”; second, that “genetic traits are associated with higher, not lower, levels of tolerance in individuals at risk”; And third, that “genetic traits are not associated with inappropriate racial attitudes.”

At the end of their paper, Schneider, Smith and Hebbing defend their position:

In short, we find that the basic assumption underlying the prevailing intellectual orthodoxy – that sympathetic, tolerant, and racially enlightened individuals tend to deny the link between genes and human diversity – is factually inaccurate. Instead, people who give genes a role in explaining the various traits humans possess are more likely to be politically liberal; LGBT people, drug addicts, obese people, and people with mental disabilities are significantly more likely to be tolerant; And it is not likely to hold unenlightened racial attitudes. Alternatively, those who believe traits are under personal control are those who tend to adopt less tolerant attitudes.

In an email, Smith continued to press for his opinion:

The political orientation appears to be largely inherited. There have been quite a few behavioral (twin) genetic studies looking at this, and they have triangulated estimates of roughly 40-60 percent of the population-level variance in ideology attributable to genetic influence. This still leaves a lot of room for environmental influences, but these effects appear to be mostly private, that is, the product of individual experience. The family (the shared environment) appears to have less influence, explaining perhaps 10 percent of the variance, or even less. Other studies using different methodologies (eg adoption studies) seem to support the general conclusion. Bottom line: The evidence that political orientation is largely inherited is strong and consistent.

I also asked Smith about political polarization.

to reply:

There is good evidence that things like pro-sociality, including positive feelings directed towards others, are inherited, and it is not at all controversial to say that intragroup bias is part of our evolutionary heritage. Given this, it’s a good bet that some people tend to be more hostile and dependent on outside groups and that these situations, like most situations, are a mixture of the influences of nature and nurture. Map psychology into a political environment characterized by eroding institutions, eroding trust in central authority, and increasing demographic, religious, and cultural disparity, and it’s a reasonable bet that our Stone Age minds will be ready to polarize.

In an article published in January 2021, “Is moral intuition inherited?Smith and Hatami found that the unique way of measuring morality by forcing respondents to face difficult life-and-death decisions produces some evidence of heritability. In their study, participants were shown “hypothetical short stories presenting a moral dilemma,” and were asked to respond “to each using an eight-point scale ranging from “forbidden” (1) to “mandatory” (8) with a midpoint “permissible” (4) “.

Stories are designed to elicit strong reactions:

1. He killed and ate an injured boy so that you and another would survive; 2. Throwing a person into the sea in order to save the life of oneself and others and 3. Killing a person in order to find a vaccine that will save humanity.

Smith and Hatami write that intense emotional responses benefit from “initial emotional response patterns that developed as adaptations to group life” in the evolutionary past.

Ariel MalkaD., a professor of psychology at Yeshiva University, warned in an email that “when thinking about ‘liberal’ and ‘conservatism’ in the American public, it is important to keep two things in mind.”

The first is that “the meaning of these terms in relation to concrete policy content has influence in some important respects.” Transformation with political context.” Second, and perhaps most important, Malka continued, “When it comes to American public opinion, it is best to think of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ From as such Matches. Many politically engaged Americans believe themselves to be either conservative or liberal, based on the prevailing social, cultural, and political implications of the terms.” He noted that both liberals and conservatives are motivated to work coherently with these identities to fit in and communicate harmoniously with significant others in their lives and simply to gain psychological value to express their identity.