The debate around the factors determining human reaction and the complexity of our personality has raged for centuries. Running away from a charging lion – most people wouldn’t think twice about what to do. Most definitely nature, no need for nurture there. But how about deciding where to put that cross when faced with a ballot paper?
The acres of media post-election comment and analysis about the American Presidential Election and the UK European Referendum placed voters into categories – the blue collar, working people were supposedly key to Trump’s victory and Britain’s ‘Leave’ result, whilst college-educated, white collar workers backed Hilary and supported the ‘Remain’ camp. The voting choices of the groups were described in terms of people’s backgrounds, income levels, and personal situation. Obviously nurture, then. Or is it that simple?
In a recent article in the New Scientst https://www.newscientist.com/article/2112732-my-biology-made-me-do-it-why-some-voters-may-embrace-the-right/?utm_source=NSNS,
John Hibbing explored the question of genetic influence on political choice. The psychology of ideology is a growing area of research amongst neuroscientists following brain scan studies linking differing political attitudes with different parts of the brain and patterns of mental activity.
The first hints of genetic influences on political choice came from a study, carried out by John Hibbing himself, of the political choices of twins. The identical twins in the studies were far more likely to have the same political preferences than fraternal twins. Further studies done by Hibbing with neuroscientist Reed Montague of University College London and Virginia Tech in the US investigated if this similarity was biologically or culturally influenced. The results revealed that participants with socially conservative beliefs were more likely to show greater fear and disgust responses to socially unpleasant images such as potential food contaminates, physically threatening situations and people being sick. They found that they could extrapolate instinctive responses of fear and disgust to political beliefs.
Using a scanner to study American politics, Darren Schreiber found the amygdala, the part of our brain which assesses the world around us, was more active in republicans whereas the insular, which concentrates on a person’s internal state and how they’re feeling, was more active in Democrats. Schreiber’s theory is that genetical make-up accounts for 40-60% of our political choice with the rest being shaped by the individual and/or the environment around them.
So what about the two shock elections of last year – Brexit and Trump? Could genes have had any influence on the results? And what lessons are there for environmentalists to learn? I’ll offer my thoughts in the next article.