Nebraska researchers find biology/genetics play a role in a person’s political views

UNL Political Science Professor John Hibbing is part of a research team that found a person's biology effects their political beliefs.

UNL Political Science Professor John Hibbing is part of a research team that found a person's biology effects their political beliefs.

Story and Photos by Carl Mejstrik, NewsNetNebraska

How much does your genetic makeup affect your political leaning? According to three political scientists, more than previously thought.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors, John Hibbing and Kevin Smith along with  John Alford of Rice University,  published their research on the role a person’s biology plays on political views in their book, “Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences.”

“Peoples’ bodies respond very differently and those differences tend to correlate with political beliefs,” said Hibbing.

Some controversy

The study has caught attention because it argues a connection between biology and politics. There has been some criticism to go along with it from liberals and conservatives alike.

“People are proud of their political beliefs, but they shouldn’t be too proud,” said Hibbing. “Ideologically, liberals don’t like the idea of biology and politics because it makes them seem inflexible. Conservatives tend to have a natural suspicion that scientists’ are out to make them look bad.”

Hibbing said the study is backed by strong evidence and research, some young political minds say they’re not sold.

“To me it just seems like it’s leaving out any human aspects of political thought,” said Dave Gottschalk, a senior Political Science major at UNL. “Some parts of it just don’t seem to add up.”

However, genetics didn’t play the only role in political orientation. According to Hibbing, a person’s political views involve genetics and the environment in they were raised.

Research on the psychological, physiological and genetic traits of individuals’ political beliefs began around 10 years ago. The co-authors of “Predisposed” continued studies of their own as well as colleagues in Minnesota and Australia.

“It’s not reporting on a specific study, but draws out a general story from dozens and dozens of studies that includes a lot of our own research, but also studies done by different people all over the world,” said Smith.

Kevin Smith wants people to understand that the body has an effect on decision making.

Kevin Smith wants people to understand that the make-up of the human body has an effect on decision making.

Twins research supports study

An interesting part of the research included studies that evaluated more than 2,500 twins from around the world. Because identical twins share the same DNA, researchers were able to compare how similar the twins were physically and ideologically. Fraternal twins, on the other hand,  only share 50 percent of the same DNA. Researchers found identical twins, who share the exact DNA, were more likely to share ideological views than fraternal twins when researchers asked each set of twins politically oriented questions.

“Predisposed” challenges the notion that our political beliefs are shaped by our social upbringing. According to Smith, “Predisposed” isn’t meant to change political attitudes but rather to help people understand that a person’s body has an effect on decision making which includes being liberal or conservative.

Justin Spooner, who is running for a seat in the Nebraska Legislature, recently graduated from UNL with a Political Science degree and found the study interesting.

“I certainly think it’s an interesting study, but I can’t see why anyone would be bothered by it,” said Spooner. “My parents instilled home-grown Nebraska values in me and my biology must have told me to listen and respect them.”

What’s Next

Hibbing, Smith and Alford are now moving forward with new studies. While “Predisposed” suggests that biology plays a role in influencing our political attitudes and orientation, upcoming research will focus on whether those same biological influences play a role in political behavior and actually get people involved in politics actively.

“There are biological differences between people who are really involved in politics, as opposed to those who as apathetic, even to the point of getting involved in violence,” said Hibbing. “There could be a biological basis for political violence and those who are willing to commit violence.”

Click on the video below to hear UNL Political Science Professor Kevin Smith discuss “Predisposed” with Fox News’ Alan Colmes.


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