Are Political Persuasions Genetically Determined?

An interesting question and one I wouldn’t have looked at without some prodding. I was reading an interesting article today in the journal Nature: Neuroscience which argues that one’s decision making abilities are dependent upon political persuasion.

David Amodio from NYU in an article titled ‘Neurocognitive Correlates of Liberalism and Conservatism‘ argues the following:

Political scientists and psychologists have noted that, on average, conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty. We tested the hypothesis that these profiles relate to differences in general neurocognitive functioning using event-related potentials, and found that greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern.

Concluding that:

Taken together, our results are consistent with the view that political orientation, in part, reflects individual differences in the functioning of a general mechanism related to cognitive control and self-regulation. Stronger conservatism (versus liberalism) was associated with less neurocognitive sensitivity to response conflicts. At the behavioral level, conservatives were also more likely to make errors of commission. Although a liberal orientation was associated with better performance on the response-inhibition task examined here, conservatives would presumably perform better on tasks in which a more fixed response style is optimal.

An issue that I have with the above article (check with your institution’s library to see if they have a subscription) is that the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are never defined. Well, they sort of are. Amodio basically says that ‘conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty’.

Is this an adequate definition? I may be considered quite politically conservative in Australia but not so in America and, further removed, in Saudi Arabia. However, I doubt that my ‘cognitive styles’ lessen in degree depending upon where my political views are interpreted, or that my response to novelty is actually any different depending upon who’s watching.

Is the article, therefore, confusing two distinct phenomena: political orientation (liberal vs. conservative) and cognitive orientation perceived in political terms (liberal vs. conservative)? Does this limit the claims of the article?


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