Can genes make us lean liberal or conservative on social values?
Aristotle may have been more on the money than he realized in saying man is a political animal, according to research published Wednesday linking genes with liberal or conservative leanings.
Or, to be precise, a specific variant of one gene that would seem to exert greater sway over women than men.
Working with 1771 university students of Han Chinese origin in Singapore, researchers compared answers to surveys — including one tailored to hot-button issues in the city-state — with the presence of a permutation of the DRD4 gene.
DRD4 is one of several genes that determines the way dopamine — a crucial neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger — is released in the brain.
What they found was a robust link between the presence (or not) of the variant and a split between liberals inclined to decry inequality, on the one hand, and die-hard conservative wary of change, on the other.
“The association between political attitude and DRD4 was highly significant for females,” and less so for men, said the study, led by Richard Ebstein of the National University of Singapore.
Women, it was also shown, tended to be more conservative in general.
The results are bolstered by earlier research based on people of European descent that found similar patterns around the same gene, according to the study.
In the long-standing “Nature vs. Nurture” debate, it was long assumed that social values — and especially political ones — were rooted in family upbringing, education and class.
But a growing body of evidence suggests, in the words of the researchers, that “biology can’t be ignored.”
A landmark study published in 1999, for example, of twins separated at or near birth showed a marked strain of heritability for ‘conservatism.’