According to Ryota Kanai's study, conservatives have larger amygdalas (shown in red)

Anterior cingulate gyrus animation

Kanai's study shows liberals have larger anterior cingulate cortexes (shown in red)

A number of studies have found that biology may be linked with political orientation.[1]


One approach to studying the role of genetics for a characteristic is to calculate the heritability coefficient. This method is generally based on twin studies and assumes that any statistical difference between monozygotic and dizygotic twins is the sole result of genetic differences.

Twin studies as a source of heritability estimates have been superceded since it relies on several questionable assumptions regarding the similarity of the environment in which twins are reared.[2][3]

A 2005 twin study study examined the attitudes regarding 28 different political issues such as capitalism, unions, X-rated movies, abortion, school prayer, divorce, property taxes, and the draft. Twins were asked if they agreed or disagreed or were uncertain about each issue. Genetic factors accounted for 53% of the variance of an overall score. However, self-identification as Republican and Democrat had a much lower heritability of 14%. This may be due to party affiliation being more sensitive to factors such as upbringing and life experiences. Another explanation is that some persons may remain loyal despite their party changing its ideological stance. When asked about the study, Zell Miller thus argued that his views remained unchanged but that the Democratic Party had changed its party line greatly. The strong heritability regarding political attitudes may explain a strong political polarization and why bipartisan compromises are difficult to achieve. Furthermore, men and women tend to marry persons with similar political views suggesting an increasing future divergence between the two sides.[4][5] Jost et al. wrote in a 2011 review that "Many studies involving quite diverse samples and methods suggest that political and religious views reflect a reasonably strong genetic basis, but this does not mean that ideological proclivities are unaffected by personal experiences or environmental factors."[1]

Brain studies

Structural differences

According to a 2011 study[6] by cognitive neuroscientist Ryota Kanai's group[7] at University College London published in Current Biology, people with different political views have different brain structures.[8] The scientists performed MRI scans on 90 volunteer young adult people's brains.[9] The results of the study showed that conservatives had a larger amygdala,[10] a structure of the brain associated with greater sensitivity to fear and disgust emotional learning.[7][9] Liberals had increased grey matter in the anterior cingulate cortex,[10] a structure of the brain associated with monitoring uncertainty and handling conflicting information.[7][9] The authors stated that the research "support previous reports of differences in personality: liberals tend to be better at managing conflicting information, while conservatives are though to be better at recognizing threats".[9] However, it is difficult to know if structures affect political preferences or if political preferences affect structure. The researchers concluded, "It's very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these brain regions." Kanai also warned: "More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude."[9][11][12][1]

Functional differences

Nature Neuroscience in 2007 reported a study[13] by scientists at New York University and UCLA that showed that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information. According to UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, the study showed "there are two cognitive styles -- a liberal style and a conservative style."[14] The article "Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism"[13] published in Nature Neuroscience "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."[13]

In an fMRI study published in Social Neuroscience, three different patterns of brain activation were found to correlate with individualism, conservatism, and radicalism.[15] In general, fMRI responses in several portions of the brain have been linked to viewing of the faces of well-known politicians.[16] Others believe that determining political affiliation from fMRI data is overreaching.[17]

Gene associations studies

"A Genome-Wide Analysis of Liberal and Conservative Political Attitudes" by Peter K. Hatemi et al. traces DNA research involving 13,000 subjects. The study identifies several genes potentially connected with political positions.[18] Genes associated with both threat perceptivity and cognitive flexibility predicted results on a liberal-conservative scale.[1]

A variant of the dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4-7R), affecting novelty seeking, has been described as a "liberal gene".[9]

Functional assays


Persons judged by both themselves and others as being more fearful, even in nursery school, are more likely to have, or to have in the future, more conservative views.[1]

Persons with right-wing views had greater skin conductance response, indicating greater sympathetic nervous system response, to threatening images than those with left-wing views in one study. There was no difference for positive or neutral images. Holding right-wing views was also associated with a stronger startle reflex as measured by strength of eyeblink in response to unexpected noise.[1]

Studies have found that conservatives are more perceptive to threatening faces.[12]

Conservatism is associated with being more sensitive to disgust.[1]

What is familiar may be less threatening than what is unfamiliar, which has been argued to explain why conservatives are more suspicious of change than liberals.[1]

Research has found that political orientation is influenced by short-term events related to fear and disgust. Thus, simply asking persons to wash their hands caused their views to become more conservative. Reminding persons of the existence of threats such as terrorism caused political views to become more conservative.[1] In a survey of the perceived severity of moral transgressions, conservatives were more affected by the taste of a bitter drink than liberals."...taste perception significantly affected moral judgments, such that physical disgust (induced via a bitter taste) elicited feelings of moral disgust. Further, this effect was more pronounced in participants with politically conservative views".[19]

The September 11 attacks increased public support for conservative views as compared to shortly before. Among survivors, three times as many become more conservative as compared to becoming more liberal during the 18 months after the attacks.[1]

Cognitive tests

A study by scientists at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles found differences in how self-described liberal and conservative research participants responded to changes in patterns. Participants were asked to tap a keyboard when the letter 'M' appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a 'W'. The letter 'M' appeared four times more frequently than 'W', conditioning participants to press the keyboard on almost every trial. Liberal participants made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw the rare 'W', indicating to the researchers that these participants were better able to accept changes or conflicts in established patterns. The participants were also wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in their anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency and a more appropriate response. Liberals were significantly more likely than conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts during the experiment, and this correlated with their greater accuracy in the test. The lead author of the study David Amodio warned against concluding that a particular political orientation is superior. "The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said."[20][14]

According to a 2010 study by Satoshi Kanazawa, IQ data from the "Add Health" survey averaged 106 for adolescents who self-identified as "very liberal", versus 95 for those calling themselves "very conservative".[21][22][23][24][25][26] An unrelated study in 2009 found that among students applying to U.S. universities, conservatism correlated negatively with SAT, Vocabulary, and Analogy test scores though there was a greater correlation with economic differences.[27] A 2012 study stated that "In an analysis of two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (N = 15,874), we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via socially conservative ideology. A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact."[28][29]

Kanazawa argued that general intelligence developed in order to help solve evolutionarily new problems while for evolutionarily recurring problems there were more specific instincts proscribing how to behave. Those having higher general intelligence are furthermore argued to be relatively more likely than those with lower general intelligence to ignore and act contrary to instinctual responses. To be more altruistic towards those being more genetically similar and acquaintances than towards strangers as well as being religious (see also Evolutionary psychology of religion) are argued to be evolutionarily based instincts. Higher support for social welfare for strangers as well as atheism are therefore argued to be more relatively more common among those with higher intelligence. Leadership professor James Bailey commented that publicly advocating such "unconventional" values may even have become a way of demonstrating to everyone one's own superior intelligence and elite status.[22][24]

Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope disputed claims that Democratic-leaning states of the United States are smarter on average than Republican-leaning states, noting that a study published in The Economist in 2000 was a hoax, and a 2006 study by Satoshi Kanazawa was grossly flawed by failing to note that students in Southern states who did not take the SAT scholastic test were often taking the competing ACT exam instead.[30]

Rindermann el a. (2011), studying the situation in Brazil, argued that the results, as well as the results from many previous studies in other nations, support that high intelligence is associated with supporting centrist, meritocratic positions. High intelligence is also associated with having any political opinions at all. In Brazil longer education was associated with less centrist and more leftist political views. The researchers argued that the more intelligent tend to support centrist, meritocratic positions as being best for both society and themselves. This centrist position can vary somewhat depending on the surrounding society and tends to be more centrist-left in more strict class based societies restricting advancement based on merit and more centrist-right in societies having egalitarian policies also restricting the more intelligent. On the other hand, longer education may promote less centrist views by students through various processes increasingly being aligned with the dominant norms in the educational system.[31]

Other variables

Liberals have higher openness to experience. Political ideology is even associated with interior decoration with the offices of liberals being rated as more colorful, comfortable, distinctive, and stylish.[12]

Conservatives score higher on conscientiousness and need for cognitive closure.[32]

In research conducted by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt regarding moral stereotypes in politics, conservatives and moderates were adept at guessing how liberals would answer questions, while liberals, particularly those who described themselves as "very liberal", were least able to guess how the conservatives would answer. [33]

From an evolutionary psychology perspective, conflicts regarding redistribution of wealth may have been a recurrent issue in the ancestral environment. Humans may therefore have developed psychological mechanisms for judging their chance of succeeding in such conflicts which will affect their political views. For males physical strength may have been an important factor in deciding the outcome of such conflicts. Therefore, a prediction is that males having having high physical strength and low SES will support redistribution while males having both high SES and high physical strength will oppose redistribution. Cross-cultural research found this to be the case. For females their physical strength had no influence on their political views which was as expected since females rarely have physical strength above that of the average male.[34] A study on political attitudes among Hollywood actors found that, while the actors were generally leftist, male actors with great physical strength were more likely to support the Republican stance on foreign issues and foreign military interventions.[35]

Several studies have found that the physical attractiveness of the candidates influences election results. A study of political candidates in Finland found that the right-wing candidates were more physically attractive than the left-wing candidates. Physical attractiveness also had a greater influence on the election results for the right-wing candidates than for the left-wing candidates. The results were stronger for municipal elections than for national elections. Possible explanations include that more physical attractive people tend to be more anti-egalitarian and right-wing or that the left is more rational.[36]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Jost, J. T.; Amodio, D. M. (2011). "Political ideology as motivated social cognition: Behavioral and neuroscientific evidence". Motivation and Emotion 36: 55. DOI:10.1007/s11031-011-9260-7.  edit
  2. Jon Beckwith and Corey A. Morris. Twin Studies of Political Behavior: Untenable Assumptions? Perspectives on Politics (2008), 6 : pp 785-791.
  3. Handbook of Social Psychology, Volume 1. Susan T. Fiske, Daniel T. Gilbert, Gardner Lindzey. p. 372.
  4. BENEDICT CAREY, Some Politics May Be Etched in the Genes, June 21, 2005, The New York Times,
  5. Alford, J. R.; Funk, C. L.; Hibbing, J. R. (2005). "Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?". American Political Science Review 99 (2). DOI:10.1017/S0003055405051579.  edit
  6. R. Kanai et al. (2011-04-05). "Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults". Curr Biol 21 (8): 677–80. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017. PMID 21474316. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Is Your Brain Liberal or Conservative? -
  8. Left brain, right brain: researchers link neurology to political orientation
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 Liberal vs. Conservative: Does the Difference Lie in the Brain? – TIME Healthland
  10. 10.0 10.1 Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults Ryota Kanai, Tom Feilden, Colin Firth and Geraint Rees. Science Direct
  11. The liberal brain? Scans show liberals and conservatives have different brain structures - New York Daily News
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Politics on the Brain: Scans Show Whether You Lean Left or Right | Political Psychology | Liberals & Conservatives | LiveScience
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 David M Amodio, John T Jost, Sarah L Master & Cindy M Yee, Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism, Nature Neuroscience. Cited by 69 other studies
  14. 14.0 14.1 Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain. Los Angeles Times (2007-09-10).
  15. Zamboni G, Gozzi M, Krueger F, Duhamel JR, Sirigu A, Grafman J (2009). Individualism, conservatism, and radicalism as criteria for processing political beliefs: a parametric fMRI study. 4. pp. 367–83. DOI:10.1080/17470910902860308. PMID 19562629.  Zamboni G, Gozzi M, Krueger F, Duhamel JR, Sirigu A, Jordan Grafman. National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA
  16. Kristine Knudson et al. (2006-03). Politics on the Brain: An fMRI Investigation. PubMed preprint (Soc Neurosci). PMC 1828689. PMID 17372621. // 
  17. Aue T, Lavelle LA, Cacioppo JT (July 2009). Great expectations: what can fMRI research tell us about psychological phenomena?. 73. pp. 10–6. DOI:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.12.017. PMID 19232374. 
  18. Genome-Wide Analysis of Liberal and Conservative Political Attitudes Peter K. Hatemi United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Nathan A. Gillespie Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Lindon J. Eaves Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Brion S. Maher Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Bradley T. Webb Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Andrew C. Heath Washington University St. Louis, Sarah E. Medland Queensland Institute of Medical Research, David C. Smyth Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Harry N. Beeby Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Scott D. Gordon Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Grant W. Montgomery Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Ghu Zhu Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Enda M. Byrne Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Nicholas G. Martin Queensland Institute of Medical Research, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 73, No. 1, January 2011, Pp. 1–15 ISSN 0022-3816 "The under-standing that we cannot yet accurately map how genes influence brain processes and biological mechanisms which in turn interact with our upbringing,s ocial life, personal experience, the weather, diet, etc, to somehow be expressed in part as a Conservative-Liberal orientation, is the exact reason that genome-wide analyses are valuable and necessary for political science.
  19. Eskine KJ, Kacinik NA, Prinz JJ (March 2011). A bad taste in the mouth: gustatory disgust influences moral judgment. 22. pp. 295–9. DOI:10.1177/0956797611398497. PMID 21307274. 
  20. Brains of Liberals, Conservatives May Work Differently. Psych Central (2007-10-20).
  21. Intelligent People Have "Unnatural" Preferences and Values That Are Novel in Human Evolutionary History. American Sociological Association press release (2010-02-23).
  22. 22.0 22.1 Satoshi Kanazawa (2010). "Why Liberals and Atheists Are More Intelligent". Social Psychology Quarterly. DOI:10.1177/0190272510361602. 
  23. Liberals and Atheists Smarter? Intelligent People Have Values Novel in Human Evolutionary History, Study Finds. ScienceDaily (2010-02-24).
  24. 24.0 24.1 Elizabeth Landau (2010-02-26). Liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity linked to IQ. CNN.
  25. Higher IQ linked to liberalism, atheism. UPI (2010-03-02).
  26. Nicole Baute (2010-03-01). Are liberals and atheists smarter? Psychologist links teen IQ levels with adult views on religion, politics and family. Toronto Star.
  27. Larry Stankov (2009-05). "Conservatism and cognitive ability". Intelligence 37 (3): 294–304. DOI:10.1016/j.intell.2008.12.007. 
  28. Gordon Hodson and Michael A. Busseri (2012-01-05). "Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact". Psychological Science: (early online publication). 
  29. Stephanie Pappas (2012-01-26). Low IQ & Conservative Beliefs Linked to Prejudice. LiveScience.
  30. Cecil Adams (2012-01-20). Are blue states smarter than red states?. The Straight Dope.
  31. Rindermann, H.; Flores-Mendoza, C.; Woodley, M. A. (2012). "Political orientations, intelligence and education". Intelligence 40 (2): 217. DOI:10.1016/j.intell.2011.11.005.  edit
  32. Chris Mooney. "Liberals and conservatives don’t just vote differently. They think differently." April 13, 2012. The Washington Post.
  33. Error on call to Template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specifiedNicholas D. Kristof (2012-03-22). . The New York Times.
  34. Michael Bang Petersen. The evolutionary psychology of Mass Politics. In Roberts, S. C. (2011). Applied Evolutionary Psychology. Oxford University Press. DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586073.001.0001. ISBN 9780199586073.  edit
  35. Strong men more likely to vote Conservative, 11 Apr 2012, The Telegraph,

External links

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