Biology and political orientation
|Part of a series on|
A number of studies have found that biology can be linked with political orientation. This means that biology is a possible factor in political orientation but may also mean that the ideology a person identifies with changes a person's ability to perform certain tasks. Many of the studies linking biology to politics remain controversial and unreplicated, although the overall body of evidence is growing.
Studies have found that subjects with conservative political views have larger amygdalae and are more prone to feeling disgust. Liberals have larger volume of grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex and are better at detecting errors in recurring patterns. Conservatives have a stronger sympathetic nervous system response to threatening images and are more likely to interpret ambiguous facial expressions as threatening. In general, conservatives are more likely to report larger social networks, more happiness and better self-esteem than liberals. Liberals are more likely to report greater emotional distress, relationship dissatisfaction and experiential hardship and are more open to experience and tolerate uncertainty and disorder better.
Genetic factors account for at least some of the variation of political views. From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, conflicts regarding redistribution of wealth may have been common in the ancestral environment and humans may have developed psychological mechanisms for judging their own chances of succeeding in such conflicts. These mechanisms affect political views.
A 2011 study by cognitive neuroscientist Ryota Kanai at University College London found structural brain differences between subjects of different political orientation in a convenience sample of students at the same college. The researchers performed MRI scans on the brains of 90 volunteer students who had indicated their political orientation on a five-point scale ranging from "very liberal" to "very conservative".
Students who reported more conservative political views were found to have larger amygdalae, a structure in the temporal lobes whose primary function is in the formation, consolidation and processing of memory, as well as positive and negative conditioning (emotional learning). The amygdala is responsible for important roles in social interaction, such as the recognition of emotional cues in facial expressions and the monitoring of personal space, with larger amygdalae correlating with larger and more complex social networks. It is also postulated to play a role in threat detection, including modulation of fear and aggression to perceived threats. Conservative students were also found to have greater volume of gray matter in the left insula and the right entorhinal cortex. There is evidence that conservatives are more prone to disgust and one role of the insula is in the modulation of social emotions, such as the feeling of disgust to specific sights, smells and norm violations.
Students who reported more liberal political views were found to have a larger volume of grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, a structure of the brain associated with emotional awareness and the emotional processing of pain. The anterior cingulate cortex becomes active in situations of uncertainty, and is postulated to play a role in error detection, such as the monitoring and processing of conflicting stimuli or information.
The authors concluded that, "Although our data do not determine whether these regions play a causal role in the formation of political attitudes, they converge with previous work to suggest a possible link between brain structure and psychological mechanisms that mediate political attitudes." In an interview with LiveScience, Ryota Kanai said, "It's very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions", and that, "more work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude." Kanai and colleagues added that it is necessary to conduct a longitudinal study to determine whether the changes in brain structure that we observed lead to changes in political behavior or whether political attitudes and behavior instead result in changes of brain structure.
Various studies suggest measurable differences in the psychological traits of liberals and conservatives. Conservatives are more likely to report larger social networks, greater happiness and self-esteem than liberals, are more reactive to perceived threats and more likely to interpret ambiguous facial expressions as threatening. Liberals are more likely to report greater emotional distress, relationship dissatisfaction and experiential hardship than conservatives, and show more openness to experience as well as greater tolerance for uncertainty and disorder.
A study by scientists at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found differences in how self-described liberal and conservative research participants responded to changes in patterns. Participants were asked to tap a keyboard when the letter "M" appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a "W". The letter "M" appeared four times more frequently than "W", conditioning participants to press the keyboard when a letter appears. Liberal participants made fewer mistakes than conservatives during testing and their electroencephalograph readings showed more activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that deals with conflicting information, during the experiment, suggesting that they were better able to detect conflicts in established patterns. The lead author of the study, David Amodio, warned against concluding that a particular political orientation is superior. "The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation," he said.
A study of subjects' reported level of disgust linked to various scenarios showed that people who scored highly on the "disgust sensitivity" scale held more politically conservative views. However, the findings of a 2019 study suggest that sensitivity to disgust among conservatives varies according to the elicitors used, and that using an elicitor-unspecific scale caused the differences in sensitivity to disappear between those of different political orientations.
Persons with right-wing views had greater skin conductance response, indicating greater sympathetic nervous system response, to threatening images than those with left-wing views in one study. There was no difference for positive or neutral images. Holding right-wing views was also associated with a stronger startle reflex as measured by strength of eyeblink in response to unexpected noise.
In an fMRI study published in Social Neuroscience, three different patterns of brain activation were found to correlate with individualism, conservatism, and radicalism. In general, fMRI responses in several portions of the brain have been linked to viewing of the faces of well-known politicians. Others believe that determining political affiliation from fMRI data is overreaching.
Heritability compares differences in genetic factors in individuals to the total variance of observable characteristics ("phenotypes") in a population, to determine the heritability coefficient. Factors including genetics, environment and random chance can all contribute to the variation in individuals' phenotypes.
The use of twin studies assumes the elimination of non-genetic differences by finding the statistical differences between monozygotic (identical) twins, which have almost the same genes, and dizygotic (fraternal) twins. The similarity of the environment in which twins are reared has been questioned.
A 2005 twin study examined the attitudes regarding 28 different political issues such as capitalism, unions, X-rated movies, abortion, school prayer, divorce, property taxes, and the draft. Twins were asked if they agreed or disagreed or were uncertain about each issue. Genetic factors accounted for 53% of the variance of an overall score. However, self-identification as Republican and Democrat had a much lower heritability of 14%.
Jost et al. wrote in a 2011 review that "Many studies involving quite diverse samples and methods suggest that political and religious views reflect a reasonably strong genetic basis, but this does not mean that ideological proclivities are unaffected by personal experiences or environmental factors."
Gene association studies
"A Genome-Wide Analysis of Liberal and Conservative Political Attitudes" by Peter K. Hatemi et al. traces DNA research involving 13,000 subjects. The study identifies several genes potentially connected with political ideology.
From an evolutionary psychology perspective, conflicts regarding redistribution of wealth may have been a recurrent issue in the ancestral environment. Humans may therefore have developed psychological mechanisms for judging their chance of succeeding in such conflicts which will affect their political views. For males, physical strength may have been an important factor in deciding the outcome of such conflicts. Therefore, a prediction is that males having high physical strength and low socioeconomic status (SES) will support redistribution while males having both high SES and high physical strength will oppose redistribution. Cross-cultural research found this to be the case; for females, their physical strength had no influence on their political views which was as expected since females rarely have physical strength above that of the average male. A study on political attitudes among Hollywood actors found that, while the actors were generally more left-leaning, male actors with great physical strength were more likely to support the Republican stance on foreign issues and foreign military interventions.
An alternative evolutionary explanation for political diversity is that it is a polymorphism, like those of gender and blood type, resulting from frequency-dependent selection. Tim Dean has suggested that we live in such a moral ecosystem whereby the viability of any existing moral approach would be diminished by the destruction of all alternative approaches (e.g. political balance promotes survival of the human species).
- Amygdala hijack
- Biology and political science
- Biological determinism
- Brain types
- Replication crisis
- Jost, John T.; Amodio, David M. (13 November 2011). "Political ideology as motivated social cognition: Behavioral and neuroscientific evidence" (PDF). Motivation and Emotion. 36 (1): 55–64. doi:10.1007/s11031-011-9260-7.
- Buchen, Lizzie (2012-10-25). "Biology and ideology: The anatomy of politics". Nature. 490 (7421): 466–468. doi:10.1038/490466a. PMID 23099382.
- R. Kanai; et al. (2011-04-05). "Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults". Curr Biol. 21 (8): 677–80. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017. PMC 3092984. PMID 21474316.
- Liberal vs. Conservative: Does the Difference Lie in the Brain? – TIME Healthland
- Carlson, Neil R. (12 January 2012). Physiology of Behavior. Pearson. p. 364. ISBN 978-0205239399.
- Bzdok D, Langner R, Caspers S, Kurth F, Habel U, Zilles K, Laird A, Eickhoff SB (January 2011). "ALE meta-analysis on facial judgments of trustworthiness and attractiveness". Brain Structure & Function. 215 (3–4): 209–23. doi:10.1007/s00429-010-0287-4. PMC 4020344. PMID 20978908.
- Kennedy DP, Gläscher J, Tyszka JM, Adolphs R (October 2009). "Personal space regulation by the human amygdala". Nature Neuroscience. 12 (10): 1226–7. doi:10.1038/nn.2381. PMC 2753689. PMID 19718035.
- Bickart KC, Wright CI, Dautoff RJ, Dickerson BC, Barrett LF (February 2011). "Amygdala volume and social network size in humans". Nature Neuroscience. 14 (2): 163–4. doi:10.1038/nn.2724. PMC 3079404. PMID 21186358.
- Szalavitz, Maia (28 December 2010). "How to Win Friends: Have a Big Amygdala?". Time. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
- T.L. Brink. (2008) Psychology: A Student Friendly Approach. "Unit 4: The Nervous System." pp 61 "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 7 February 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Feinstein JS, Adolphs R, Damasio A, Tranel D (January 2011). "The human amygdala and the induction and experience of fear". Current Biology. 21 (1): 34–8. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2010.11.042. PMC 3030206. PMID 21167712.
- Staut CC, Naidich TP (April 1998). "Urbach-Wiethe disease (Lipoid proteinosis)". Pediatric Neurosurgery. 28 (4): 212–4. doi:10.1159/000028653. PMID 9732251. S2CID 46862405.
- Y. Inbar; et al. (2008). "Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals" (PDF). Cognition and Emotion. 23 (4): 714–725. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.372.3053. doi:10.1080/02699930802110007.
- Sanfey AG, Rilling JK, Aronson JA, Nystrom LE, Cohen JD (June 2003). "The neural basis of economic decision-making in the Ultimatum Game". Science. 300 (5626): 1755–8. Bibcode:2003Sci...300.1755S. doi:10.1126/science.1082976. PMID 12805551. S2CID 7111382.
- B. Wicker; et al. (2003). "Both of us disgusted in My insula: The common neural basis of seeing and feeling disgust" (PDF). Neuron. 40 (3): 655–664. doi:10.1016/s0896-6273(03)00679-2. PMID 14642287.
- Wright P, He G, Shapira NA, Goodman WK, Liu Y (October 2004). "Disgust and the insula: fMRI responses to pictures of mutilation and contamination". NeuroReport. 15 (15): 2347–51. doi:10.1097/00001756-200410250-00009. PMID 15640753.
- Lane RD, Reiman EM, Axelrod B, Yun LS, Holmes A, Schwartz GE (July 1998). "Neural correlates of levels of emotional awareness. Evidence of an interaction between emotion and attention in the anterior cingulate cortex". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 10 (4): 525–35. doi:10.1162/089892998562924. PMID 9712681.
- Price DD (June 2000). "Psychological and neural mechanisms of the affective dimension of pain". Science. 288 (5472): 1769–72. Bibcode:2000Sci...288.1769P. doi:10.1126/science.288.5472.1769. PMID 10846154. S2CID 15250446.
- H. Critchley; et al. (2001). "Neural activity in the human brain relating to uncertainty and arousal during anticipation". Neuron. 29 (2): 537–545. doi:10.1016/s0896-6273(01)00225-2. hdl:21.11116/0000-0001-A313-1. PMID 11239442.
- Bush G, Luu P, Posner MI (June 2000). "Cognitive and emotional influences in anterior cingulate cortex". Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 4 (6): 215–222. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01483-2. PMID 10827444.
- "Politics on the Brain: Scans Show Whether You Lean Left or Right". LiveScience. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
- Kattalia, Kathryn (April 8, 2011). "The liberal brain? Scans show liberals and conservatives have different brain structures". New York Daily News. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
- J. Vigil; et al. (2010). "Political leanings vary with facial expression processing and psychosocial functioning". Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 13 (5): 547–558. doi:10.1177/1368430209356930.
- J. Jost; et al. (2006). "The end of the end of ideology" (PDF). American Psychologist. 61 (7): 651–670. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.61.7.651. PMID 17032067.
- J. Jost; et al. (2003). "Political conservatism as motivated social cognition" (PDF). Psychological Bulletin. 129 (3): 339–375. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.339. PMID 12784934.
- David M Amodio, John T Jost, Sarah L Master & Cindy M Yee, Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism, Nature Neuroscience. Cited by 69 other studies
- "Brains of Liberals, Conservatives May Work Differently". Psych Central. 2007-10-20. Archived from the original on 2016-10-13.
- "Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain". Los Angeles Times. 2007-09-10.
- Elad-Strenger, Julia, Jutta Proch, and Thomas Kessler. "Is Disgust a "Conservative" Emotion?." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2019): 0146167219880191.
- Zamboni G, Gozzi M, Krueger F, Duhamel JR, Sirigu A, Grafman J (2009). "Individualism, conservatism, and radicalism as criteria for processing political beliefs: a parametric fMRI study". Social Neuroscience. 4 (5): 367–83. doi:10.1080/17470910902860308. PMID 19562629. Zamboni G, Gozzi M, Krueger F, Duhamel JR, Sirigu A, Jordan Grafman. National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA
- Kristine Knudson; et al. (March 2006). "Politics on the Brain: An fMRI Investigation". Soc Neurosci. 1 (1): 25–40. doi:10.1080/17470910600670603. PMC 1828689. PMID 17372621.
- Aue T, Lavelle LA, Cacioppo JT (July 2009). "Great expectations: what can fMRI research tell us about psychological phenomena?" (PDF). International Journal of Psychophysiology. 73 (1): 10–6. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.12.017. PMID 19232374.
- Raj, A; van Oudenaarden, A (2008). "Nature, nurture, or chance: stochastic gene expression and its consequences". Cell. 135 (2): 216–26. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2008.09.050. PMC 3118044. PMID 18957198.
- Martin, Nicholas; Boomsma, Dorret; Machin, Geoffrey (17 December 1997). "A twin-pronged attack on complex traits" (PDF). Nature Genetics. 17 (4): 387–92. doi:10.1038/ng1297-387.
- Beckwith, Jon; Morris, Corey A. (December 2008). "Twin Studies of Political Behavior: Untenable Assumptions?". Perspectives on Politics. 6 (4): 785–91. doi:10.1017/S1537592708081917.
- Fiske, Susan T.; Gilbert, Daniel T.; Lindzey, Gardner (15 February 2010). Handbook of Social Psychology (PDF) (5th ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 372.
- Carey, Benedict (June 21, 2005). "Some Politics May Be Etched in the Genes". The New York Times. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
- Alford, J. R.; Funk, C. L.; Hibbing, J. R. (2005). "Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?". American Political Science Review. 99 (2): 153–167. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.622.476. doi:10.1017/S0003055405051579.
- Hatemi, P. K.; Gillespie, N. A.; Eaves, L. J.; Maher, B. S.; Webb, B. T.; Heath, A. C.; Medland, S. E.; Smyth, D. C.; Beeby, H. N.; Gordon, S. D.; Montgomery, G. W.; Zhu, G.; Byrne, E. M.; Martin, N. G. (2011). "A Genome-Wide Analysis of Liberal and Conservative Political Attitudes". The Journal of Politics. 73: 271–285. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.662.2987. doi:10.1017/S0022381610001015.
- Michael Bang Petersen. The evolutionary psychology of Mass Politics. In Roberts, S. C. (2011). Roberts, S. Craig (ed.). Applied Evolutionary Psychology. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586073.001.0001. ISBN 9780199586073.
- "Strong men more likely to vote Conservative". The Telegraph. April 11, 2012. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
- Dean, T. (2012). "Evolution and Moral Diversity". The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication. 7. doi:10.4148/biyclc.v7i0.1775.
- Some Politics May Be Etched in the Genes - The New York Times,
- Political Views Reflected in Brain Structure - ABC
- Liberals and conservatives don’t just vote differently. They think differently. - The Washington Post
- Body politic. The genetics of politics. Slowly, and in some quarters grudgingly, the influence of genes in shaping political outlook and behaviour is being recognised - The Economist, Oct 6th 2012