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Add Health-Based Study Uncovers Genetic Contribution to Political Views

A new study based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) suggests that genetics may play a role in shaping adults’ political leanings.

A new study based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) suggests that genetics may play a role in shaping adults’ political leanings.  The research, which appeared in the latest edition of The Journal of Politics, focused on a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4.  The DRD4 gene has previously been shown to influence people’s novelty-seeking behavior, but this is the first time it has be linked to the development of political views. 

The study’s lead researcher, James H. Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, matched genetic information on 2,000 Add Health participants with “maps” of their social networks.  He found that those with a specific variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be liberal as adults – though only if they had an active adolescent social life.  The finding held true regardless of the participant’s ethnicity, culture, sex, or age.

The key to it all, the study suggests, is that liberals are more open.  Talking with FoxNews, Fowler hypothesized that “people with the novelty-seeking [DRD4] gene variant would be more interested in learning about their friends’ points of view.  As a consequence, people with this genetic predisposition who have a greater-than-average number of friends would be exposed to a wider variety of social norms and lifestyles, which might make them more liberal than average” (October 28, 2010. Researchers Find the ‘Liberal Gene’.  Published on FoxNews.com). 

"These finding suggest that political affiliation is not based solely on the kind of social environment people experience," the authors concluded in the report.  "It is our hope is that more scholars will begin to explore the potential interaction of biology and environment."

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This article is based on research published as the following:

Settle, Jamie E.; Dawes, Christopher T.; Christakis, Nicholas A.; and James H. Fowler. 2010. Friendships Moderate an Association between a Dopamine Gene Variant and Political Ideology. The Journal of Politics, 72: 1189-1198. Cambridge University Press.  DOI: 10.1017/S0022381610000617.