Why Biology Belongs in the Study of Politics


John Hibbing makes the case in the Washington's Post's Monkey Cage:

Larry Bartels recently asked what studies of genes and politics — “genopolitics”– add to our “understanding of politics” and suggested the answer is “not much.” Bartels’s question is perfectly legitimate but his answer deserves more considered reflection.

I suppose those of us involved with genopolitics should be heartened by the tone of Bartels’ essay. After all, if the three stages of scientific discovery are “that can’t be true,” “that’s not important,” and “we’ve known that all the time,” it would appear that the genopolitics movement has entered the second stage.

From my perspective, it is unfortunate that Bartels focuses entirely on genopolitics given that much of the new work on biology and politics does not explicitly involve genes. Early (even pre-natal) development, salient environmental experiences, and genetics all interact to mold people’s biological predispositions, which then shape individuals’ responses to given environmental stimuli. Biology, not genetics alone, is the key and it is now possible to measure politically relevant biological predispositions with physiological, endocrinological, cognitive, and neurosciencetechniques.

But why would we want to? Here we come to an important potential contribution of work on biology and politics. Whether the preferred phrase is implicit attitudes,internalized information, motivated social reasoning, antecedent considerations, orpredispositions, much research shows that, though change is possible, people’s politics are quite consistent over the course of a lifetime.

More here.