Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Genes and Politics: We Knew That

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 28, 2012

As the Republican National Convention gets under way in Tampa, Fla., researchers take a look at how genes influence political beliefs and behavior.,0,6578432.story


The nature/nurture argument never ends, but as we come upon a presidential election, there is support for the notion that our poltics are genetic. Interesting that the article mentions that children tend to think like their parents until they leave the nest. Of course, as with all nature/nurture arguments, most kids are biological children, so one would assume they share genes which make them think in similar ways. The most interesting part of the article is the following:

“‘Modern questions about immigration are similar to the primal need to recognize and deal with out-groups,’ they wrote. Attitudes about welfare reflect age-old questions about               sharing  resources, while views on foreign policy are the modern-day equivalent of concerns about protecting one’s tribe.”

Once again, aspects of personality, generosity versus frugality, for instance, are largely genetically determined. Does this mean we can’t get mad at our spouse for genetic differences? Hmmm…

4 Responses to “Genes and Politics: We Knew That”

  1. Jon said

    Shirah, you ask, “Does this mean we can’t get mad at our spouse for genetic differences?” Of course we can, and often do. However, the more interesting (and probably meant question) is, “Should we get mad at our spouse for genetic differences?” This is multifaceted. Consider two types of questions. Does it make sense to get mad? How strong and influence can be made upon genetic/nature aspects of personality? Does it make sense? Well, if we are mad, we are mad, but could are anger be channeled in a more productive avenue? Perhaps. If we can channel our feelings in a more productive avenue, can we alter a spouse’s attitude? Again, perhaps.

    • Absolutey right! Let us suppose that spending habits were genetic. Then, let us suppose we agreed to that notion. Then, let us suppose that two opposite kinds of spenders get married. How can they handle this inevitable conflict? Is the answer acceptance or compromise? Is compromise possible if the genetics are so strong? What is the ‘work-around’ in this scenario? As you said, these were the questions that I meant to ask. At the same time, the tenor of my question was the supposition that spending habits, for example, are genetic, like height, and so since one knows the height of the other when one agrees to settle in, and since height, at least growing taller is not an option, very few couples argue over height. If only behaviors could be so simply determined. The complexity of behavior allows for this blog. Once again, I appreciate your clarification.

  2. Shelly said

    The article states, “Aspects of personality, generosity versus frugality…genetically determined.” However, you neglect to mention how experience combined with genetics can influence behavior. A person, generous by nature, but thrown into the hands of war, may spend the rest of his life hoarding every penny he ever earns trying to make up for everything he lost during wartime experiences. Nature versus nurture?

    • I would say that trauma, in your example, war, creates inhibitions where there might not otherwise be. Having said that, generally speaking, the effects of trauma tend to wear off over time, such that the genetics may “come through” after the inhibitory effects of trauma wear off. On the other hand, trauma may exacerbate an already frugal person, such that their frugality becomes more severe in the face of trauma, and in this situation, time may not change the behavior. Life experience has to be emotionally powerful to alter genetic predispositions. Hence, relationships, with their emotional power, have the biggest influence on changing behavior. This leverage, if you will, is what creates tension and frustration since those involved in relationships understand that leverage on some level, but it is not always clear how best to use that leverage. I will post more about this subject as the nature/nurture issue, as you know, intrigues me. Thanks.

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