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Maybe you were born liberal or conservative: study
I found this interesting, although it's tough to glean anything substantive from a study with only 46 participants. Nevertheless, it's something interesting to ponder.
Are you a born conservative (or liberal)? - Los Angeles Times
Are you a born conservative (or liberal)?
A new study suggests that your political attitudes are wired in from the beginning.
By Denise Gellene
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 19, 2008
Die-hard liberals and conservatives aren't made; they're born. It's literally in their DNA.
That's the implication of a study by a group of researchers who wanted to see if there was a biological basis for people's political attitudes.
They found to their surprise that opinions on such contentious subjects as gun control, pacifism and capital punishment are strongly associated with physiological traits that are probably present at birth.
The key is the differing levels of fear that people naturally feel.
"What is revolutionary about this paper is that it shows the path from genes to physiology to behavior," said James H. Fowler, a political science professor at UC San Diego who was not involved in the research.
The researchers, whose findings were published today in the journal Science, looked at 46 people who fell into two camps -- liberals who supported foreign aid, immigration, pacifism and gun control; and conservatives who advocated defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq war.
In an initial experiment, subjects were shown a series of images that included a bloody face, maggots in a wound and a spider on a frightened face. A device measured the electrical conductance of their skin, a physiological reaction that indicates fear.
In a second experiment, researchers measured eye blinks -- another indicator of fear -- as subjects responded to sudden blasts of noise.
People with strongly conservative views were three times more fearful than staunch liberals after the effects of gender, age, income and education were factored out.
Kevin B. Smith, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a study author, said conservatives were more vigilant to environmental threats, and he speculated that this innate tendency led them to support policies that protect the social order.
Fowler said the study added to the growing research suggesting that over millions of years, humans have developed two cognitive styles -- conservative and liberal. Cautious conservatives prevented societies from taking undue risks, while more flexible liberals fostered cooperation.
"For the species to survive, you need both," he said.
But Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University, said it was impossible to draw any conclusions from a study with so few people, all from a small Midwestern town. What's more, he said, it's just too squishy interpreting people's reactions.
"I don't believe any of this," he said. "The people who are most scared are less in favor of gun control. Why wouldn't they be more in favor? Because they need guns to fight the bad guys? You can make up a story in either direction."
The study is the latest to challenge the long-standing dogma that upbringing and environmental factors determine political attitudes. Recent studies have found that identical twins -- who share the same genetic inheritance -- think alike on political issues more often than other siblings.
Last year, researchers reported that the brains of conservatives and liberals process information differently.
None of this, however, suggests that people are slaves to their biology, researchers agree.
The latest study "does not mean that people can't sit down and think about the issues and come to some logical compromise," Smith said. "What it does mean is that it is going to be hard work."
TheStar.com | sciencetech | Liberals flinch less, conservatives more, study finds
Liberals flinch less, conservatives more, study finds
Study may point to genetic link to political choice
September 18, 2008
In an interview last week, U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin talked a lot about blinking.
"You can't blink" and "we must not blink," Republican John McCain's nominee told ABC News anchor Charles Gibson in response to questions about her readiness for office and the fight against terrorism.
But a new study in the prestigious journal Science says that people with right wing views blink and flinch far harder than liberals when confronted with startling stimuli.
In the first study to directly link politics and physiology, the University of Nebraska led study suggests that people who hold conservative views on things like foreign policy and gun control, are more frightened than those with a more left-leaning bent on those issues.
"We're not trying to say that your church and your family and your school and the people you hang out with don't matter," says Doug Oxley, the lead study author.
"What we're introducing to the field of political science is this notion that there is a physical basis to these beliefs as well."
In the study, 46 volunteers were asked about their political views on such hot button issues as immigration and gun control, which have a strong correlation to voting booth behaviour.
Researchers then measured the strength of the study subjects' "startle reflexes" through the strength of their blink responses and electrical activity on their skin when confronted with startling images or noises.
The study found that people who held more "protective" views on theses issues - those who would limit immigration or prefer a more unfettered right to be armed - had stronger startle reflexes to the stimuli.
In other words, they not only blinked, they blinked harder.
While the physiological connection between startle reflexes and protective political views has yet to be established, researchers say that its mere existence suggests there is some genetic component to individual voting preferences.
"People have said `come on, there's no way that there is a piece of DNA that codes for an attitude on whether you're for or against gun control'," says Kevin Smith, a political scientist at the Lincoln, Ne. school and a study co-author.
"And it makes sense to us that there has to be a fairly complex causal chain between genes and political attitudes and behaviour that involves both biology and the environment."
Smith says the study keyed on the sympathetic nervous system, which among other things controls involuntary reactions - such as heart rates, sweating or blinking - to sudden threats.
"When something goes `bang!' behind us, we tend to have these involuntary reactions to that environmental stress," Smith says.
"The idea is that those who are biologically sensitive to threat in their environment, are more likely to be supportive of public policies that deal with threats in the larger political environment," he says.
Neither researcher had any comment on the current federal election in Canada, which pits a right wing Conservative party against more left leaning opponents.
And as for the blink-averse Palin, an improbable new star in the U.S. political firmament, Oxley would make no judgements.
"Our research is not making any judgements about it," he says.
"The blink is a measure of something going on within the brain, within the body, within the nervous system...but it isn't really what they were referring to in the political campaign recently."