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The “chicken-and-egg” development of political opinions: The roles of genes, social status, ideology, and information

  • Peter Beattie (a1)

Twin studies have revealed political ideology to be partially heritable. Neurological research has shown that ideological differences are reflected in brain structure and response, suggesting a direct genotype-phenotype link. Social and informational environments, however, also demonstrably affect brain structure and response. This leads to a “chicken-and-egg” question: do genes produce brains with ideological predispositions, causing the preferential absorption of consonant information and thereby forming an ideology, or do social and informational environments do most of the heavy lifting, with genetic evidence the spurious artifact of outdated methodology? Or are both inextricably intertwined contributors? This article investigates the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors to ideological development using a role-play experiment investigating the development of opinions on a novel political issue. The results support the view that the process is bidirectional, suggesting that, like most traits, political ideology is produced by the complex interplay of genetic and (social/informational) environmental influences.

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Correspondence: Peter Beattie, Department of Political Science, University of California, Irvine. Email:
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