The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it. ... In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. George Orwell

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Scientists Find Liberal Gene?


UCSD Paper:
Friendships Moderate an Association Between the DRD4 Gene and Political Ideology
by Jaime E. Settle [jsettle at], Christopher T. Dawes, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler


"It is the crucial interaction of two factors - the genetic
predisposition and the environmental condition of having many friends
in adolescence - that is associated with being more liberal,”
according to the study.

Here, we link our understanding of the genetic basis of political ideology with
environmental factors known to influence political attitudes. We suggest that individuals with the 7R allele of the DRD4 gene, given certain environmental stimuli, are more likely to have a liberal ideology.

The 7R allele of the DRD4 gene is known to be associated with several haracteristics, such as increased extraversion, novelty-seeking, and sensation-seeking (Eichhammer et al. 2005).

In a landmark piece synthesizing five decades of research on conservatism and social-cognitive motives, Jost et al. (2003) assert a motivational basis for the stable, definitional core of conservative ideology, claiming that conservative ideologies are adopted in part to satisfy a variety of social, cognitive, and psychological needs. The authors write that people’s response to threatening environmental stimuli, such as fear and uncertainty, affects the development and expression of political beliefs concerning the core components of conservative ideology, such as resistance to change and acceptance of inequality (p. 366).

We would expect to find a negative correlation between traits associated with DRD4-7R and a conservative ideology if conservatives perceive new experiences as a threat and thus, to satisfy their psychological needs, they avoid novelty and sensation seeking. This has been demonstrated in the literature with sensation seeking (Kish and Donnenwerth 1972, Kish 1973), a taste for broad-mindedness (Feather 1979, Feather 1984), and openness to experience (Pratto et al. 1994, Jost and Thompson 2000, Peterson et al. 1997, Peterson and Lane 2001).

Novelty-seeking should not necessarily lead one to make more friends - those high in the 7R allele often exhibit certain asocial behaviors. Rather, the influence of a large number of friends could serve to develop social cognition (Staub 1995), create a better understanding of other’s needs (Niebrzydowski 1995) and greater consideration in regard to the society in which they live (Selman 1990, White et al. 1987), as well as increase expression of prosocial behaviors (Hartup 1993).
It is the combination of the desire for new experience and many different pathways to these experiences that we hypothesize has an impact on political ideology.

(See also this article.)

I find it fascinating that a dychotomy between different types of characters comes out even through genetics!  It makes me think that a difference between the two classes of population goes deeper than just "liberal" and "conservative" views in the political sense. The authors identify the liberal view as the one associated with openess, curiosity and a willingness to embrace new experience, where as the conservative is described as perceiving new experiences as threats, thus, to satisfy their psychological needs, they avoid novelty and sensation-seeking, and tend to "accept inequality" - meaning acceptance of the class hierarchy and the authority I presume.

This is not quite the way I see it, based on my experience. Since I grew up in a communist state before moving to the West, I have noticed an awful lot of Western "Liberals" (in the American sense of this word) exhibiting anything but curiosity and openess, while some of the poster "boys" and "girls" of  Conservatism ("Neocons" as they are being fondly nicknamed), seem to have been more open to new ideas or willing to "rock the boat".

I think a more accurate way of political labelling is to use the European meaning for "Liberalism" = pro individual freedom. In the US language it would be called "Libertarianism". European Liberals have always been unafraid and willing to entertain new ideas while the European "Conservatives" were those interested in preserving the power of the oligarchies and their institutions thus any new ideas were generally regarded as harmful.  On the other hand, in the North America, the Conervatives seem to consist of an unworkable - "unholy" mixture of the European style Conservatives and Libertarians.

I see a much more fundamental split in the present society, along the lines of "open and individualistic" versus "closed and hierarchical" that fits the above described model better than the political divide. I wrote about that in the following posts:

Human regression, anthropology

Baby boomers' monkey business 

It is not just as much about socializing and having many friends versus being a recluse - it all probably depends whom you have to deal with! If one is mostly surrounded by the members of a not-ones-own types then obviously, that person isn't going to spent as much time socializing, as he/she would have liked. Each type is as sociable as the other one but on their own terms!  They probably perceive (mutually) any social or societal/civic/business activities of the other kind as boring, unnatural, fake or criminal.  I know I do!



Peter said...

"They probably perceive (mutually) any social or societal/civic/business activities of the other kind as boring, unnatural, fake or criminal. I know I do!"

That's the general impression I get.....


JC said...

The whole idea of a liberal and conservative gene smells like something out of "1984"...its pure rubbish but it does point out how science can be twisted to show or even prove just about anything and everything.I don't find conservatives to the more open minded of the two....NOT AT ALL.That's not to say many so called don't liberals betray their high ideals...they do.

During the Vietnam war campus protests(1970)I witnessed protesters shouting down others and and exhibiting very hostile behavior which was directly contrary to the peacefulness they were trying to promote.When I pointed this out to several of them I was told essentially that the ends(stopping the war) justified the means.I disagreed and countered by saying the means should be consistent with the ends, but no one was buying it.Still all in all its the liberals in most all areas from science to politics that have the more open minded and creative ideas.It was after all the conservatives that opposed voting rights(and other rights) for blacks and women and the liberals who fought and won these rights for minorities.

That's not to say we can overlook the economic data which shows us that often times liberals place too much stress on the free market system by overburdening it with excessive spending on numerous programs.I recognize that liberals often go overboard in shifting economic resources from those talented individuals who create wealth to less the less fortunate.I consider it a question of degree but many conservatives disagree.

Stan (Heretic) said...

Hi JC,

You touched a huge topic a bag of scientific worms really. It may take me several posts to answer.

I thought too, that it is a funny BS until I read the paper (pdf). It is actually a well supported meta-study. That is the author is not putting forward something completely out of the blue, but rather is building on some partial data that has been already found and published before. It does sound funky though. I think, we have to resist getting prejudiced based on parellels, against some research if the topic may be politically incorrect, as long as the _intentions_ are clear.

Stan (Heretic) said...


Issue 1: "I don't find conservatives to the more open minded of the two.."

My personal experience of the 1970-ties onwards, in Europe is that I met roughly equal number of close-minded on either side. I found it impossible to argue against some the left-leaning liberals because they were so much attached to and truly believed in their own theories. They (British and French Left) believed in the big government and socialized services. Since I have been living in just that kind of socialized "paradise", and didn' t hesitate to describe what it is really like... they looked at me like vegans at a meat eater and treated me basically like F1 Jim on McDougall's forum 8-:)

I think, a better way of classifying character type is not along political liberal/ political conservative, but rather individualist/collectivist.

I met political liberals who were collectivists (many) but I also met political liberals who were strongly individualistic. The first kind always seemed to believe in big governments, seeking jobs (or "jobs") with the big institutions, where as the second type did not but would sometime tolerate that temporarily for certain goals (such as restoring law and order etc).

I met conservatists who were archetypically close minded but I met also conservatists who wanted to preserve what was worth preserving (for example nuclear power stations!) rather then embracing every single new and catchy political trend regardless of the costs.

Stan (Heretic) said...

Issue 2: Vietnam war, and quote "I disagreed and countered by saying the means should be consistent with the ends, but no one was buying it."

Because you were probably not one of their kind!

JC, I think you should have drawn a logical conclusion back then rather than harboring some illusions about them. Vietnam protesters have had absolutely valid reason to protest, but they way they did it was totally irresponsible. Looking at the hippies 1968 (which became our present day corporate management!) made me painfully aware that they represented a totally different form of consciousness - totally collectivist, practiced herd-like behavior and followed opinions rather than logic.

Their "flowers" were all of one color and fake and their behavior seemed to me totally incomprehensible, for example drugs and monkey-style promiscuity...

Stan (Heretic) said...

Re: "It was after all the conservatives that opposed voting rights(and other rights) for blacks and women and the liberals who fought and won these rights for minorities."

Absolutely! But that was a long time ago!

[opinionated statement=ON]

Nowadays, your Black Democratic President is busy selling your country to the bankers while the people (including black) who voted him in are loosing their houses, industries and jobs.

[opinionated statement=OFF]

Mark said...

From the paper:
"In our sample, 62% have no 7R alleles, 33% have one copy of the
allele and 5% have two copies of the allele."

We're talking about 5% of the population here.

"Information was gathered in the first wave about a subject’s social network. Students were
allowed to nominate up to five female and five male friends and were then asked more specific
details about those friendships, such as whether or not that friend went to the same school, what grade they were in, if they spent time together after school or over the weekend, and whether the friend was consulted about a problem in the previous week. This information can be used to
create a variety of different measures about the respondent’s social network, but in this paper we will focus on a simple measure, the number of non-familial friends named by the respondent in the first wave."

So if you nominated a friend that was in the family, such as a sibling or cousin, that would be subtracted from your total friends. In other words, those with close family ties were counted as having less friends because the friends they nominated were discounted. Then you can explain the correlation as those with strong family ties are more likely to consider themselves conservative.


Mark said...

Also, to have more than 5 friends you would have to have friends from more than one gender. If you have 20 friends from one gender and no friends from the other gender, then you count as having 5 friends.

Just bad study design.


Stan (Heretic) said...


May be, but I am not sure if family connections tie with social conservatism. In order to explain this by spurious correlations one would have to assume that it does. Hard to say. Secondly, the friends' bias is not obvious either. Political views are quite orthogonal to biomarkers, see for example the right hand side graph - the slope is zero. If this were due to a selection bias due to a family or friend's gender bias, then why would that not show up on the population without DRD4-7R?

Still, there is a possibility that it may be for some reason spurious. It would be interesting to know why.