Never Mind the Tea Party. Can a ‘Liberal Gene’ Make You a Party Animal?

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Politics aren’t just a matter of personal choice or parental influence — they’re something you’re born with. The theory that hereditary factors help shape political leanings has been gaining support in recent years. A new study in the Journal of Politics, published by Cambridge University Press, develops that hypothesis further. Individuals carrying a particular variant of the D4 gene affecting the neurotransmitter dopamine are more likely to turn out to be liberals, conclude researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Harvard University.

This gene variation has already been linked to a personality type driven to seek out new experiences. In other words, people with the DRD4-7R gene are more likely to be game for a laugh, for a dare, for anything new and stimulating “to alter dopamine levels to affect mood,” explain the authors. (More on What Goes on Inside the Brain of a Misbehaving Boy?)

To see if this predisposition also fed through into political beliefs, the researchers looked at 2,574 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to find out about their political behavior, civic activity and social networks. They suspected that DRD4-7R-equipped novelty-seekers would listen more closely to the views of friends and would also acquire a wider circle of friends, exposing these embryonic Keith Olbermanns and Jon Stewarts to yet more points of view, attitudes and lifestyles. This exposure would further tease out their inner liberal.

The study bears out this hypothesis, say the authors. While having the gene won’t make you liberal and having a rich social life won’t do so either, the interaction of the two may well do the trick. “Ten friends can move a person with two copies of the 7R [variant] almost halfway from being conservative to moderate or from being moderate to liberal,” the study concludes. (More on The Lab Rat: How to Improve Memory in 15 Minutes)

Its authors don’t draw the other obvious inference of their research: that liberals are likely to have more friends than conservatives. As the midterms draw near, liberal America needs all the friends it can get.

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