It's not to be; genes explain some of the variation in people and may even have a slight effect on political attitudes and economic decisions, such as preferences toward environmental policy and financial risk taking, but most associations with specific genetic variants are too small to matter much, according to a new study led by Cornell University economics professor Daniel Benjamin.
The research team studied a sample of about 3,000 subjects with comprehensive genetic data and information on economic and political preferences.
The study showed that unrelated people who happen to be more similar genetically also have more similar attitudes and preferences. This finding suggests that genetic data, taken as a whole, could be moderately predictive of economic and political preferences but the molecular genetic data has essentially no predictive power for the 10 traits studied, which included preferences toward environmental policy, foreign affairs, financial risk and economic fairness.
The study also found evidence that the effects of individual genetic variants are tiny, and these variants are scattered across the genome.
Their conclusion is at odds with claims of genetic associations with such traits, but the new study included ten times more participants than the previous studies and studies claiming genetic correlation to politics have been debunked numerous times.
“An implication of our findings is that most published associations with political and economic outcomes are probably false positives. These studies are implicitly based on the incorrect assumption that there are common genetic variants with large effects,” said Benjamin. “If you want to find genetic variants that account for some of the differences between people in their economic and political behavior, you need samples an order of magnitude larger than those presently used.”
The research team concluded that it may be more productive in future research to focus on behaviors that are more closely linked to specific biological systems, such as nicotine addiction, obesity, and emotional reactivity, and are therefore likely to have stronger associations with specific genetic variants.Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences