Political attitudes vary with physiological traits

Science. 2008 Sep 19;321(5896):1667-70. doi: 10.1126/science.1157627.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Blinking*
  • Culture
  • Electromyography
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Noise
  • Politics*
  • Public Policy
  • Reflex, Startle*
  • Social Control, Formal
  • Social Problems
  • Social Values
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States