Heritability of voting

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Genetic Variation in Political Participation:

The decision to vote has puzzled scholars for decades…The results show that a significant proportion of the variation in voting turnout can be accounted for by genes. We also replicate these results with data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and show that they extend to a broad class of acts of political participation. These are the first findings to suggest that humans exhibit genetic variation in their tendency to participate in political activities.

Additive genetic variance ~ 0.50. You can read the whole paper, though I’ve blogged it elsewhere.



  1. Fortunately, the relevant gene frequencies are the same in all human populations.

  2. probably correlated with conscientiousness

  3. Not really related, but anyone here have any good theories on the evolutionary origin of vasovagal trypanophobia? The stuff currently out there isn’t really satisfying (survival advantage to avoid knives and sharp fangs).

  4. bdr — avoiding fangs & daggers seems like a pretty good hypothesis to me.  
    However, you might try something a bit trickier…take gene expression measurements of people during the time they’re suffering this condition (I was very surprised to see Wikipedia reporting it around 10%!). You can figure out which tissue to take it from, though blood might work.  
    Then search that set of expression profiles (or the median thereof) against a bunch of expression databases. Perhaps you’ll find some kind of interesting conserved mechanism or pathway in other species.

  5. PS: I am aware that getting blood from people with a fear of needles might be tricky, but you could potentially put them under sedation.  
    Anyway, the larger point is that a lot of evolutionary psychology hypotheses about behavior X might be tested by taking measurements on time-dependent, easily measured, evolutionarily conserved features — like expression levels — and then comparing them across phyla to see whether that particular system state is preserved.  
    This would be a *lot* more persuasive than some of the just-so stories out there…

  6. I once heard a rumor that there is a strong presence of this phobia in some north american crypto-philatelist communities.  
    There has also been some talk of secondary exonumic affinities among needle-phobes, a counterintutive notion to be sure. I would be interested in taking a look at the heritability of exonumia among philatelist subrogees in particular, although the key factor, what I call the “Fagus Signal,” is itself still very hypothetical at this point. Of course I am referring here to the involucres of curious sort that the ancient Celts once relied upon for sustenance in times of famine and persecution, and in particular, the Fagus Signal’s tangible counterfactual residue.  
    To this day the “Saxons,” in fact, draw their namesake from the ancient word “seax,” which referred to the special type of yatagan employed in their rites of wafture, whether for fratrimonial desplumage or for exodemic prejunctive replevin. Alas, most of the cliogenometric data in these cases is patchy at best, and is, to date, also quite unsatisfying.

  7. marsv: 
    You may be on to something there!

  8. Additive genetic variance ~ 0.50.  
    Bof. Following the long established tradition of DZ/MZ twin comparisons, they simply assume the genetic variance is entirely additive in the first place. I.e. they assume no epistasis at all, which stretches credibility in the case of complex psychological traits. 
    In other words, they show very little about “heritability” in the everyday sense.  
    Also, their dismissal of the equal environment assumption problem is a bit casual.

  9. Unfortunately, the research method doesn’t really tell us the underlying hereditable trait. 
    There are probably at least two factors involved. People who are INTERESTED in politics are more likely to vote. 
    And in the U.S., people are repeatedly told that voting is the right thing to do and that it’s your responsibility to vote, so some sort of MORAL BEHAVIOR is involved.