The most common perception of how our way of thinking is modeled is that it is caused by environmental elements, such as family, school, and social context.
However, science seems to disagree. There are several aspects of our thinking that seem to depend on our genes, which has motivated researchers to tackle a very complex question: political ideology.
Is political ideology hereditary? Over the past five decades, an attempt has been made to resolve this question, giving a sobering answer.
To what extent is political ideology hereditary?
For some time now, psychologists and scientists interested in politics have been trying to find out what the conditions are for a person to be in favor of this or that ideological current. Political ideology is the set of beliefs that a person has about their idea of what an ideal society should look like, as well as having a political project on how to achieve it.
As this definition shows, this aspect of each individual is extremely complicated, which led to a change not only in the way we study them, but also in the way they were treated as a construct.
Traditionally, political ideology was seen as a one-dimensional constructWith a continuum going from the most liberal to the most conservative, we have seen that it is truly multidimensional, involving various aspects more typical of the economic and social dimensions.
Several studies in psychology have focused on understanding and explaining the influence of personality and motivating factors on political ideology. Together with this, political scientists have focused on several factors that could be at the root of a feeling of predilection for one or the other political project, including family socialization, demographic variables and, in accordance with what psychologists see.
But perhaps the most striking factor that was taken into account was that of behavioral genetics. Research that has focused on this aspect has attempted to elucidate whether political ideology is hereditary, an object of study that has grown in importance over the past five decades.
Twin studies are a classic tool for determining the heritability of personality traits, illnesses, and other aspects. The basic idea behind them is to compare that has been seen in monozygotic twins, i.e. those who are genetically identical or who clone each other, With dicygotic twins, who share about half of the genes and are, in essence, like all other siblings.
Generally, when we see that in monozygotic twins there is a greater similarity between a particular trait compared to dicygotic siblings, researchers take this fact as evidence that this particular trait depends on genetic factors, factors of which both identical twins inherited.
Thanks to these studies, it is possible to measure the heritability of a given trait, i.e. the degree of variation of this trait attributed to genetics. This idea should not be confused with the proportion inherited from this trait, but the percentage which depends on genetics. To understand it better, if we say that a certain trait has a heritability of 0.30, we are saying that about 30% of the differences seen in individuals are due to genetic factors, while the remaining 70% would be due to either to environmental factors, or to stochastic phenomena.
On the question of political ideology, several studies have reported that the heritability of this aspect is close to 40%. Likewise, some aspects which are to some extent related to political ideology have also been taken into account, such as social rules, order and pattern of conduct, which have also been shown to be heritable.
An ideology of a lifetime
While twin studies are helpful, one way to find out how hereditary a trait is is observe its stability throughout an individual’s life and compare it to the general population.
As for that, we have a fairly shared idea among the general population. Some see political ideology as a very unstable phenomenon as it develops, which would argue that environmental factors are the most important. On the other hand, there are those who consider that ideology is a very stable aspect throughout life, or at least has a predictable development, which would defend the idea that it is highly heritable.
However, and like virtually everything when it comes to explaining behavior and personality, political ideology is a factor resulting from the combination of genetics with the environment and, in fact, there are vital periods. where one or the other is more important.
During childhood and adolescence, political ideology is more influenced by family socialization, Business at school and free time in addition to witnessing emotionally strained experiences, but not necessarily traumatic.
In adulthood and beyond, genes seem to gain more weight. This could be due in part to the fact that after reaching the age of majority, many people leave their main family to live in a rented apartment while studying at university or working in another municipality.
How are genes related to politics?
Research has also focused on how the genes would be behind the psychological mechanisms involved in political ideology. That is to say, this is what causes a set of pieces of DNA to end up revealing personality traits and ways of seeing the world that define us, for example, as progressive people or preservatives.
While there is strong evidence that there is a genetic basis for ideology, no direct relationship has been found between genes and our political worldview. This is not surprising, because political ideology is too complex an issue to expect a single gene or a small set of them to explain that we are voters of one party or one. other.
However, yes it makes sense to find out what is the indirect relationship between genes and ideology. Ideology is strongly influenced by aspects such as personality traits, cognitive abilities, cognitive style and religiosity, aspects of which various research has shown a strong hereditary component. On this basis, it makes sense to think that ideology is hereditary, because the aspects that define it are.
- Dawes, CT and Weinschenk, AC (2020). On the genetic basis of political orientation. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 34, 173-178.
- Tuschman, A., (2013) Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us. United States. Prometheus.