[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 5-Feb-2008
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Contact: David Ruth
druth@rice.edu
713-348-6327
Rice University

Is political orientation transmitted genetically?

Rice political science professor says your genes play a part in your politics

As reported in this week's issue of "New Scientist" magazine, research by Rice University professor of political science John Alford indicates that what is on one's mind about politics may be influenced by how people are wired genetically.

Alford, who has researched this topic for a number of years, and his team analyzed data from political opinions of more than 12,000 twins in the United States and supplemented it with findings from twins in Australia. Alford found that identical twins were more likely to agree on political issues than were fraternal twins. On the issue of property taxes, for example, an astounding four-fifths of identical twins shared the same opinion, while only two-thirds of fraternal twins agreed.

"What we found was that it probably is going to take more than a persuasive television ad to change someone's mind on a certain political position or attitude," said Alford. "Individual genes for behaviors do not exist and no one denies that humans have the capacity to act against genetic predispositions. But predictably dissimilar correlations of social and political attitudes among people with greater and lesser shared genotypes suggest that behaviors are often shaped by forces of which the person themselves are not consciously aware."

Alford believes that political scientists are too quick to dismiss genetics; rather, he believes genetics should be studied and taught along with social-environment influences.

"It has been proven that genetics plays a role in a myriad of different human interaction and makeup," said Alford. "Why should we exclude political beliefs and attitudes?"

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About John Alford:

Alford's research areas include American politics, congressional elections, political behavior and biology of politics. His current research concerns the biological basis of human political and social behavior. This includes small-group experiments designed to probe regularities and variability in basic social behaviors, evolutionary explanations of behaviors and predispositions, twin studies of the genetic heritability of behavioral tendencies, and brain-imaging studies of specific areas of brain activation in political decision-making.

For more information, visit http://cohesion.rice.edu/administration/fis/report/FacultyDetail.cfm?DivID=1&DeptID=62&RiceID=687.

For a copy of the study cited by New Scientist or to interview John Alford, contact David Ruth, Rice University, at 713-348-6327; cell, 612-702-9473; or druth@rice.edu.

Located in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked one of America's best teaching and research universities. It is distinguished by its: size—2,850 undergraduates and 1,950 graduate students; selectivity—10 applicants for each place in the freshman class; resources—an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio of 6-to-1, and the fifth largest endowment per student among American universities; residential college system, which builds communities that are both close-knit and diverse; and collaborative culture, which crosses disciplines, integrates teaching and research, and intermingles undergraduate and graduate work. Rice's wooded campus is located in the nation's fourth largest city and on America's South Coast. For more information, visit www.rice.edu.



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