Monday, June 04, 2012

Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies


From the American Journal of Political Science, (Volume 56, Issue 1, pages 34–51, January 2012), an article the rejects the notion that personality traits determine or shape political ideologies. This article proposes that political ideologies may be genetically driven - i.e., we're born to be conservative of liberal, which is not to say (in my opinion) that we are stuck with these proclivities.

Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies

  1. Brad Verhulst1,
  2. Lindon J. Eaves2,
  3. Peter K. Hatemi3,4
Article first published online: 16 DEC 2011
DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2011.00568.x
American Journal of Political Science

American Journal of Political Science

Volume 56, Issue 1, pages 34–51, January 2012

Abstract

The assumption in the personality and politics literature is that a person's personality motivates them to develop certain political attitudes later in life. This assumption is founded on the simple correlation between the two constructs and the observation that personality traits are genetically influenced and develop in infancy, whereas political preferences develop later in life. Work in psychology, behavioral genetics, and recently political science, however, has demonstrated that political preferences also develop in childhood and are equally influenced by genetic factors. These findings cast doubt on the assumed causal relationship between personality and politics. Here we test the causal relationship between personality traits and political attitudes using a direction of causation structural model on a genetically informative sample. The results suggest that personality traits do not cause people to develop political attitudes; rather, the correlation between the two is a function of an innate common underlying genetic factor.
The field of political science is witnessing a renaissance in the exploration of the relationship between personality traits and political preferences (Gerber et al. 2010; Jost et al. 2003; Mondak and Halperin 2008; Mondak et al. 2010). The belief that personality traits are innate, genetically influenced, and develop in infancy (Bouchard et al. 1990; Eaves et al. 1999; Eysenck 1967; Loehlin 1992; McRae et al. 2000), whereas political attitudes develop in adulthood, has led to the assumption that personality traits cause the subsequent development of political attitudes. Recent scholarship, however, has demonstrated that political attitudes develop much earlier than previously suspected (Block and Block 2006; Hess and Torney 1967), the precursors of which are present prior to a child's first year in school (Persson 2010) and are also influenced by genetic factors (Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005; Eaves, Eysenck, and Martin 1989; Hatemi et al. 2010; Martin et al. 1986). Furthermore, the relationship between personality traits and political attitudes has been found to be largely a function of latent shared genetic influences (Eaves and Eysenck 1974; Verhulst, Hatemi, and Martin 2010). These findings cast doubt on the critical foundations necessary for the assumed causal structure expounded throughout the extant literature (e.g., Gerber et al. 2010; Mondak et al. 2010). In light of these empirical inconsistencies, it is important to reconsider this basic assumption to gain a more accurate understanding of the complex interplay between an individual's disposition and their political attitudes.
The recent introduction of behavioral genetic models plays a pivotal role in expanding our understanding of the nature of the relationship between personality traits and political attitudes. These models allow us to examine whether the relationship is best accounted for by common genetic or environmental influences shared between the two phenotypes (e.g., Verhulst, Hatemi, and Martin 2010) or whether a causal relationship exists between personality and political attitudes (e.g., Heath et al. 1993). To test the assumed causal relationship between personality traits and political attitudes, we first highlight the critical findings that both underscore and challenge the causal assumption. In doing so, we evaluate recent evidence which has identified genetic sources of variance on attitudes and personality. Then, using a series of behavioral genetic analyses on data collected from a large sample of twins (5,748 pairs), we partition the covariation between personality traits and political attitudes into environmental and genetic sources that are shared between the two traits. Finally, we conduct a direction of causation analysis which explores a variety of scenarios that may underlie the established association between personality traits and political attitudes (Duffy and Martin 1994; Heath et al. 1993; Neale and Cardon, 1992). These types of analyses allow us to empirically test the assumption that personality traits cause people to develop attitudes or if other possible avenues exist for the relationship between attitudes and personality. Specifically, we compare how the data fit four possible causative models: the assumed causal structure, a reverse causal structure where attitudes cause personality traits, a reciprocal causal structure where personality traits and political attitudes both have a causal influence on each other, and a correlational structure where a latent set of genes influences both personality traits and political attitudes.
Read the whole article - it's free access.
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