Our Tribal Genes Affect Politics

Alejandro Alvarez
November 18th 2016

In the last week a lot of people were baffled with the election results in the US and this prompted a myriad of experts proposing their theories to explain it. Some argue that the responsible was the echo chamber effect of social media, others say that the polls were misleading and others blame the mass media. But what if the cause was in our evolution, hidden deep in our genes and digging up our tribal instincts?

John Hibbing from the University of Nebraska answered this question. He is an expert in biology and politics and he believes that genes can shape political views.

As you may know, a basic element in the process of natural evolution is the instinct of self-preservation, this includes the ability to sense danger of possible threats to our life; Hibbing has evidence that this mechanism is highly influential in the political views of individuals. Specifically he discovered that people with a low sensitivity to threatening stimulus tend to be more liberal, whereas people with higher psychological reactions to this stimulus tend to be in favor of increased defense spending, restrictions on immigration, gun rights, patriotic displays and traditional lifestyles. Furthermore this people tend to be less worried about other problems, like global warming, because this change is completely new and was not registered in our genetic history as dangerous.

By contrast, the most common threat to our lives as hunter-gatherer tribes came from other tribes, as Hibbing dais: “Threats from out-groups and from in-group violators of the norm may have become ingrained in our social defense mechanisms”. In other words, the preservation instinct may have pushed the electors to the conservative side of the spectrum because it provided a promise of safety and defense against outsiders.

In the XXI century we may see ourselves as modern superior beings devoid of our natural instincts but, as this elections seem to suggest, much of our humanity is still dominated by our tribal fears.

Source: New Scientist. Image: NM Political Report

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