Born Liberal or Born Conservative?

A new study publihed recently suggests that people are either born liberal or born conservative (sort of like you’re born gay or born straight) — your political viewpoints are hardwired in your DNA and the notion we can change hearts and minds based on ideas is not the case.

Here’s the story in the UK Media and in today’s LA Times.

The core finding of the study is: if you’re a conservative, you’re more likely to be a scardy cat (which makes perfect sense for the party that runs campaigns based on fear and divisiveness).

Here’s an excerpt:

The findings, from a team led by Douglas Oxley, of the University of Nebraska, are consistent with previous studies, which found that political beliefs are highly heritable.

Identical twins, who share all their genes, are more likely to have similar views on current affairs and social issues than fraternal twins, who share a similar upbringing but only a proportion of their DNA.

A strong role for biology may explain why people change their core beliefs so rarely.

In the study, the scientists recruited 46 volunteers living in Lincoln, Nebraska, all of whom had strong political beliefs. They were asked for their opinions on a wide variety of controversial issues. All the questions concerned social or international issues, rather than economic matters.

The participants were then given two laboratory tests, to establish their physiological responses to frightening or unexpected stimuli. In the first test, they viewed 33 images, three of which were distressing or threatening: a large spider on the face of a frightened person; a dazed person with a bloody face; and maggots in an open wound. The scientists measured the electrical conductance of the skin, a standard measure of distress and arousal.

In the second test, the volunteers were subjected to a loud, unexpected noise, with scientists measuring the involuntary blinking that followed. A strong startle response is indicative of heightened fear and arousal. The results, which are published in the journal Science, revealed significant differences in both responses, which corresponded with people’s political views. Those with “markedly lower physical sensitivity to sudden noises and threatening visual images” tended to support liberal positions, while those with strong responses tended to be more conservative.

This would fit with the hypothesis that people who have more fearful responses to perceived threats are more likely to be conservative, while those who have weaker responses develop more liberal views.


  1. A study of 46 people makes the hypothesis true and the conclusion a fact? Looks like the left-wing noise machine has done an excellent job of shutting out any challenges to its ideology.

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