Genetic Links among Ideology, Cognitive Style, Big Five Personality, and Executive Functions
Ksiazkiewicz, Aleksander Jan
Alford, John R
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation provides novel insights into the role of genes in political attitudes and behaviors by examining the role of genes in political traits over time and by uncovering two novel sets of potential mediators between genes and politics. Chapter 1 provides an exhaustive review of the biopolitics literature, lays out a theoretical framework for the study of biopolitics, and reviews twin study methodology. Chapters 2 and 3 report results from twin study analyses that rely on an original survey of twins that was conducted in the fall of 2012 in cooperation with the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research. Chapter 2 conducts one of the first genetically-informative panel studies of political traits. It finds that genetic factors are the primary contributors to trait stability over a four year period in mid-life, but that only environmental factors contribute to trait change over the same period. Chapter 3 conducts the first ever behavioral genetic analysis of three measures of cognitive style—the need for cognition, the need for cognitive closure, and the need to evaluate. It then shows that the correlations between cognitive style and political traits are driven, in most cases, primarily by genetic factors. This finding suggests that cognitive style variables may mediate the role of genes in politics, a possibility that is left open for future research. Chapter 4 utilizes an original online panel, collected via Amazon Mechanical Turk, to examine whether individual differences in executive functions are related to political traits. The results suggest that updating, a form of executive function, is related to several political traits. Moreover, because individual differences in executive functions are highly heritable, updating may mediate the genetic effect on politics. Chapter 5 summarizes the main contributions of this research, which include evidence of the role of genes in political trait stability in mid-life, the heritability of widely-studied cognitive style measures, and the possibility that cognitive style and executive functions mediate the role of genes in politics. The final chapter also lays out a research agenda for the biopolitics field. In short, this dissertation strongly supports integrating genes into political science theory.