Sunday, May 3, 2009

Politics and Psychology

During the course of the semester, I focused my studies on politics and psychology. I never knew there were so many psychological aspects that went into deciding whether to vote and who to vote for.

Firstly, I never knew there were so many biological reasons for my political behavior. I've learned that my genes may determine whether I choose to vote or not. I also discovered that if I have low physical sensitivities to loud noises, I may be more likely to support foreign aid and liberal immigration policies. If the opposite is true, I probably favor the death penalty and the Iraq War. I also learned that certain parts of my brain get "excited" depending on what candidate I look at. What this means is controversial, but it shows that politics and psychology are linked.

I also didn't know that some of my political responses were due to my unconscious. I always thought that making a political decision was a conscious effort but this project has shown me otherwise. I've always been against negative political campaigning because I think it's tasteless, but unconsciously I'm drawn to it! One of the reasons is because negative campaigning activates my "fight or flight" response because I think I am in danger. Therefore, I actually respond more to negative campaigning than I do to the tame stuff!

I really enjoyed studying psychology and politics at the same time. It even has prompted me to pursue a double major in Political Science and Psychology. I liked that I was allowed to choose topics that interested me and didn't have to read what someone wanted me to read. I also liked that I had to write a summary and an interpretation. The summary made me work hard to understand what the study was about and the analysis made me understand why the study was important and what it actually meant. To make it better, I would suggest having group meetings instead of just writing blogs. Sometimes I would forget about posting a blog and I think having meetings would help me schedule better and also understand my peers' work more fully. I will add that doing one a week is far better than writing a 10 page research paper which I have to do for my other class :(. I also think some of my classmates would have been interested to hear about our work but I'm not sure the PSYC 100 schedule would be able to accommodate class presentations. All in all, this was a really interesting project and I learned a great deal! I'm sure it will be something I will be studying for a long time!

Voting may be due to nature, not nurture

James H. Fowler and his associates conducted a study on twins in the Los Angeles area in an attempt to discover if political participation was due to genes. Many studies related to political participation have focused on environment and personality factors, such as efficacy and reinforced learning through parents' behavior. The biological aspect of participation has often been cast aside. Using the Los Angeles County voter registration records and the Southern California Twin Registry, Fowler attempted to prove his hypothesis that political participation has a hereditary factor.

Fowler matched up 396 twins from the registry and voting records. He separated monozygotic (identical; share 100% of genes) and dizygotic (fraternal; share 50% of genes) twins to determine the extent that genes have on voting. Only same-sex twins were used in order to limit variables. The voting records used included eight elections from 2000 to 2005.

The results of their findings found that 53% of the variance in voting behavior can be accounted for by genetic affects; in simpler terms, genes play a role in political participation. Shared environment accounted for 35% of the variance. It is widely assumed that MZ and DZ twins share comparable social environments. If this happens to be false, the genetic effect is much greater.

This study confirms outcomes of similar studies, but for different reasons. The voting behavior of parents has been known to have an effect on the political participation of their children. This was often assumed as a result of social influence, but this recent study shows that biological factors may play a great role since shared environment only played a small role in this study. Also, this study confirms that voter behavior is habitual. What was always assumed to be reduced from reinforcement learning may actually be due to genetic variation.

Although this study finds genes as a predictor for political participation, we still do not know which genes are responsible or why. This study will begin to help political psychologists understand biological reasons for voting and open up the minds of many others.