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Biology and Politics: A Link Closer than You Think

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There is a close link between biology and politics, a new field known as genopolitics (from "The Economist").

There is a close link between biology and politics, a new field known as genopolitics (from “The Economist”).

As high school students looking forward to becoming voting adults in the coming years, many of us have began to form our views and express our opinions in support of our preferred political ideologies. One thing that is certain is that we will not all share the same political views. While some of us may become liberal in our orientation, some others may become conservative, while others may develop a mix of liberal and conservative ideals. This leads to the following question: why would any given group of people have such widely divergent political views? Indeed, the age-old debate on nature versus nurture has found its way into the search for the roots of political ideology.

Historically, psychologists have linked the origins of ideology to upbringing and societal influences; the thought is that strict parenting and upbringing would result in those who believe in a more strict doctrine of personal responsibility. Such people would tend to value traditional American ethics, have a very low tolerance level, be averse to risk, and be more likely to mature into conservative thinkers. On the other hand, those with a more liberal upbringing are likely to mature into adults with a so-called “loose grasp on reality” and a strong belief in an abundance of civil liberties. They are also likely to be less risk-averse than their conservative counterparts.

In recent years, scientists have begun to challenge the widely accepted linkage between our upbringing and our political orientation based on new findings of their own. While scientists acknowledge that societal influences may have some role to play in political orientation, scientific research is beginning to suggest that our genetic makeup may actually have a greater role to play. This has led to a whole new field of scientific study known as genopolitics.

In a recent study conducted by Dr. Pete Hatemi and his colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University, they observed identical and fraternal twins between the ages of 11 and 75 and found that until their late teens, both kinds of twins had equally similar political views. However, soon after leaving home, there were notable differences in the way that that their ideologies were modified by the expected increase in independent thinking. Comparisons between identical and fraternal twins revealed that once teenagers leave home, identical twins are more likely to maintain similar viewpoints, while fraternal twins are more likely to hold divergent views. Between the ages of 18 and 20, identical and fraternal twins both shared nearly 70 percent of their political ideologies. However, between the ages of 21 and 25, 60 percent of identical twins continued to share the same political ideology, while the number had shrunk to 40 percent for fraternal twins. This clearly supports the notion that genetics have a role to play in our political orientation. However, the influence of genetics does not generally come into play until a child leaves the household and becomes independent. Prior to that, upbringing expectedly plays a greater role in political orientation.

In a survey of students at BCA, 59 percent of the participants agreed that their political views were somewhat similar to that of their parents and 53 percent agreed that their views were influenced by their parents.  However, 42 % of the surveyed students did not believe that political orientation could be influenced by genetics. “Political views depend on the world that we live in [and can] vary depending on the major issues in the world and how they affect you,” says a sophomore in AAST. He further noted that he cannot not “see how you can be born with preconceived ideas of a world that you have never seen before.” These observations indeed address some of the reasons why scientists have concluded that the correlation between political views and genetics still remains a theory.

The linkage between political ideology and genetics is still a grey area, and scientists agree that no specific gene that results in socialistic or conservative tendencies can be identified. However, they have been able to prove that certain genetic patterns in an individual can induce him or her to lean in one political direction rather than another and can help form his or her political views.  It remains unclear as to how this knowledge will be used for political advantage in the future.

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Biology and Politics: A Link Closer than You Think