True blue ... is that your selfish genes talking?

May 6, 2010

It may be election week, but as they visit the polls, few Britons will consider that the party they vote for - and the fact that they vote at all - may be determined by their genes.

This argument has been explored in a series of academic studies in recent years, the most popular of which are revealed in Times Higher Education this week.

The list, compiled by science-data provider Thomson Reuters, highlights the 10 most-cited research papers published since 2005 covering the "genetics of politics".

The top 10 are listed in this week's THE (see the related article link on the right of this page)

The paper leading the pack concludes that genetics plays an "important role in shaping political attitudes", although the effect is "more modest" when it comes to choosing a party.

"Are political orientations genetically transmitted?", published in the American Political Science Review, is an analysis of voting behaviour among twins.

A second paper, "Genetic variation in political participation", published in the same journal, adds that "a significant proportion of the variation in voting turnout can be accounted for by genes".

A third, "Two genes predict voter turnout", published in The Journal of Politics, goes further, identifying genes it says are linked to trips to the polling booth.

Meanwhile, "Political attitudes vary with physiological traits", published in Science, identifies trends linking people's political beliefs to their responses to simulated threats.

The study of 46 adults with strong political views found that those who were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies and gun control were also less sensitive than others to sudden noises and threatening images.

Those who were more sensitive to such "threats" were likely to favour higher defence spending and capital punishment and support military participation in the Iraq War.

A fifth paper to make the Thomson Reuters list suggests that liberals and conservatives have different types of brain.

"Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism", published in Nature Neuroscience, says that conservatives have "structured and persistent" thought patterns, whereas liberals are "more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty".

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