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.’

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