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A “liberal gene”

November 4th, 2010

In high school, were you the Homecoming King or the band geek? Did you spend your lunch period at the cool table in the cafeteria or in the library by yourself? Do you consider yourself liberal?

New research suggests that if you had a lot of friends in high school and consider yourself liberal there could be something greater than your love of President Barack Obama that is contributing to your liberal political ideology.

That’s right. Research has found a “liberal gene.” Sadly, this is not a joke.

A recent study concluded that a gene called DRD4 in connection with your high school popularity could be the reason you consider yourself liberal. They are calling DRD4 the “liberal gene.”

According to Discovery News, “Scientists at the University of California San Diego and Harvard University determined that people who carry a variant of the DRD4 gene are more likely to be liberals as adults, depending on the number of friendships they had during high school.”

Scientists identify the gene as liberal because it is thought to make people more apt to being open. According to research, openness is linked with political liberalism.

They theorize that the friendships are important because the more people you are in contact with the more viewpoints you are exposed to.

However, it seems there are a few flaws in their reasoning.

My biggest problem with this is not that a segment of DNA is being called the “liberal gene.” It bothers me because of why it is being labeled that way.

I understand that the gene supposedly makes people more open, but why can’t you be open and conservative? Wouldn’t it be even more likely that you would be open and independent? Why is it only liberal that can be synonymous with openness.

Likewise, what if I have the gene and was popular in high school, but all of my friends are conservative? I would still be open to listening to them, but they probably wouldn’t convince me to be liberal.

The survey included more than 2,500 individuals. According to Discovery News participants were asked during high school to name five female and male friends. That helped determine their social network. When those people reached their 20s they had them classify themselves as  “very conservative,” “conservative,” “middle-of-the-road,” “liberal,” or “very liberal.”

The results led the scientists to believe there was some relationship between being liberal, friendship, and having the gene.

Therefore the scientists have discovered a correlation, not a causation. Popularity, the DRD4 gene, and being liberal may be connected, but one element does not cause another.

I’m not buying this. People associate with political parties because of two reasons: the influence of family and friends, or because of a conscious decision based on the issues. There may be a few other reasons, but I find it hard to believe that genetics is one of them.

Discovery News also wrote that this is the first study that associates a gene with politics.

According to Discovery News, “Neither the gene nor social networks alone influenced political identification.”