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September 18th, 2008
03:15 PM ET

Political attitudes predicted by physiological traits?

By Danielle Dellorto
CNN Medical Producer

The differences between Democrats and Republicans may form well before you’re able to vote. In fact, you may actually be born with your conservative and liberal views.

Political science researchers at Rice University in Texas studied 46 adults with strong political beliefs. They split them up in two groups, based on their leanings, and tested their physiological reactions to threatening and non-threatening images. How hard they blinked, their anxiety level, among other physical responses were charted as images of bloody faces and bunny rabbits came across the screen.

Perhaps not surprising, the groups’ reactions were divided. “The responses between the two groups were substantially different,” notes study author James Alford, a professor of political science at Rice. “There was very little overlap between them.”

The participants with traditional conservative views - supportive of the Iraq war, death penalty, immigration reform and The Patriot Act - had strong physical reactions to the threatening images of spiders and calm reactions to the non-threatening images of bunnies and happy children.

Those with more liberal views - low support of Iraq war and higher support of gay marriage, gun control and abortion rights - showed no differences in reaction when viewing the threatening and non-threatening images. They appeared to physically react to the same to an image of a bowl of fruit and one of an open war wound.

Fascinated by the clear differences in the results, Rice University researchers believe this study, while small, is proof that our political views, in part, are genetically instilled in us.

“We estimate your biological makeup has a 30 to 40 percent role in how you will vote,” says Alford. “The other portion is how and where you were raised as well as environmental factors”

But Alford notes that just because the reaction to threatening images may not be instant for some people, it doesn’t mean we all won’t come to the same conclusion eventually.

"This sheds a small window into part of what motivates political differences in humans are biological differences in humans,” he says. “Biological reasons don’t drive everything, but do deserve equal place at the table."

So what do you think? Do your genetics play a role in which way you vote?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.