To explain why one person supports tougher immigration polices and another staunchly opposes the Iraq War, blame biology.
University of Nebraska at Lincoln researchers recently compared physiological responses with participants' political views, representing one of the most recent ways scholars are relating biology and politics.
Researchers measured bodily response of participants to threatening images- - such as of large spiders on a person's face and maggot-infested wounds - and compared the results to how participants felt about certain political issues.
Topics included the death penalty, military spending and gun control.
Researchers found that of the 46 individuals tested, those who supported stronger defense tended to have stronger physiological responses to threat.
Such studies exploring links between biology and political beliefs are part of a new trend in social research. Other projects are looking at how biology may influence political activism and apathy, as well as voter turnout.
Genopolitics, or biopolitics, has emerged only within the past few years, with studies using brain scans and physiological testing to empirically assess possible correlations.
Traditionally, research has focused on how factors such as family life, upbringing and education influence political ideology in adults.
Although such variables are important, they do not account for the entire picture, said John Hibbing, one of the UNL researchers. He cited twins with divergent political attitudes as an example of when environmental explanations fall short.
Although researchers have turned to biology to explain behaviors in economics, anthropology and psychology, the extension to political science has been controversial.
Hibbing attributes this to "simple denial," as well as concern about what the findings may imply.
"Any knowledge is dangerous and that's true of environmental determinism and genetic determinism," he said.
The findings, which will possibly incite alarm in some circles, may help explain diverse and often highly variable beliefs.
People may better understand some individuals' stringent beliefs if they consider how physiology may contribute to political and social values.
"It's not just that evolution has pushed us in a certain direction, but rather that evolution has created diversity," said Hibbing.
Controversy has also arisen from simple misunderstanding, he added. The recent study can be construed to link support for strong defense to more severe bodily reactions to threats as a result of fear, a suggestion that has offended some conservatives.
However there is no "normal" response to threat, Hibbing said, adding that the study accounts for a wide array of natural responses.Comments powered by Disqus
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