Is Political Ideology Determined by One’s Biology?

It’s been theorized that biology plays as much a part, if not more, in our political beliefs than our upbringing and experiences do.

John Hibbing’s Political Physiology Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been putting this theory to the test.

“We know,” says Hibbing, “that liberals and conservatives are really deeply different on a variety of things. It runs from their tastes, to their cognitive patterns—how they think about things, what they pay attention to—to their physical reactions. We can measure their sympathetic nervous systems, which is the fight-or-flight system. And liberals and conservatives tend to respond very differently.”

I don’t like to read MotherJones.com, but here’s an excerpt from them on some of Hibbing’s discoveries:

[P]olitical partisans on the left and the right differ significantly in their bodily responses to threatening stimuli. For example, startle reflexes after hearing a loud noise were stronger in conservatives. And after being shown a variety of threatening images (“a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it,” according to the study), conservatives also exhibited greater skin conductance–a moistening of the sweat glands that indicates arousal of the sympathetic nervous system….

It all adds up, according to Hibbing, to what he calls a “negativity bias” on the right. Conservatives, Hibbing’s research suggests, go through the world more attentive to negative, threatening, and disgusting stimuli–and then they adopt tough, defensive, and aversive ideologies to match that perceived reality.

In one test, test subjects were shown a 2×2 grid of four images. One of the pictures was of a cute little girl in a pink ballerina’s tutu, and the other three pictures were a wound on someone’s finger, dog feces in the grass, and an eaten corncob covered with houseflies. The test subjects’ eyes were tracked by a machine. Based on the research of politics and its relation to biology/psychology, the machine was able to determine based on a number of physiological factors whether the test subjects were liberals or conservatives. Conservatives, it turned out, tended to dwell on the negative images a lot longer than on the positive ones. It also found that despite this, conservatives had “stronger disgust sensitivity.”

You can read more about the findings at the Mother Jones link above, but here’s why they don’t surprise me: Conservatives felt disgust more easily than liberals did and their eyes went more rapidly to negative images and dwelled on them for longer, right? Well, this may be why those on the right always try to address the more serious but controversial issues—they’re more aware of how bad things are—and why liberals focus on trivial garbage like birth control, imaginary gender wage gaps, the establishment of unisex bathrooms, and the modern whim that is gay “marriage.”

Conservatives see (most of) the troubles of the world while liberals remain naive. Conservatives also feel disgusted more easily because they have higher standards of propriety than liberals do.

But is it actually biological? I’m not so sure. Couldn’t it simply be that if you were raised conservative, you were raised to feel aversion toward averse things, raised to have high standards? That would produce the same test results—sweating, dwelling on negative images, etc.—as being “biologically” conservative, wouldn’t it?

If political inclination is biological, it’s going to be hard for liberals. They’re always going on about how you shouldn’t judge someone (LGBT people in particular) for how they were “born.” If conservatives and liberals are born conservative and liberal, liberals will have to either stop making these admonitions or they will have to stop hating conservatives.