September 19, 2008
Now this could be a fascinating insight or simply way off beam. Without further research on the topic to persuade me otherwise, I’m going for the latter. It’s nonsense: Although political views have been thought to arise largely from individuals’ experiences, recent research suggests that they may have a biological basis. We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.
Correlations are tricky things. There’s no causation here, just a coincidence of data. Yes, it seems convincing, but how deeply does it go? Tip it around – perhaps instead of your ‘political leanings’ being linked to your physical reactions and thus being biological in origin, perhaps instead what you learn as political animals over time shapes your reactions. We would need to delve very deeply here – and longitudinally, from birth – to find what actually comes first – be it the so-called ‘hard-wired’ response (suggested but unproven here) or the politico-social viewpoint. Ask yourself, does the correlation expressed here vary by language type and skill, by culture, and by experience? Have they checked? How could they check?
There’s also a danger that someone will believe this to be “true”and use it to “prove” some case that socially-aware and caring people are “cowards” or “fearful” and thus not to be trusted with decisions or in situations where shock, awe or force may be involved. Or maybe it’s all true, who knows.