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Fear as a Disposition and an Emotional State: A Genetic and Environmental Approach to Out-Group Political Preferences

Authors


  • Peter K. Hatemi is Associate Professor of Political Science, Microbiology and Biochemistry, Pennsylvania State University, 307 Pond Lab, University Park, PA 16802 (phatemi@gmail.com). Rose McDermott is Professor of Political Science, Brown University, Box 1844, 36 Prospect Street, Providence, RI 02912 (Rose_McDermott@brown.edu). Lindon J. Eaves is Distinguished Professor, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, School of Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, 800 East Leigh Street, Biotech 1, Suite 101, Richmond, VA 23219 (eaves@vcu.edu). Kenneth S. Kendler is Rachel Brown Banks Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, School of Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, 800 East Leigh Street, Biotech 1, Suite 101, Richmond, VA 23219 (kendler@vcu.edu). Michael C. Neale is Professor, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, School of Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, 800 East Leigh Street, Biotech 1, Suite 101, Richmond, VA 23219 (neale@vcu.edu).

  • The data for this article were collected with the financial support of the National Institute of Health grants AA-06781, MH-40828, MH/AA-49492, and MH-54150. Data analysis was supported by MH-068521 and NHMRC443036. Model development was supported by MH-068521.

Abstract

Fear is a pervasive aspect of political life and is often explored as a transient emotional state manipulated by events or exploited by elites for political purposes. The psychological and psychiatric literatures, however, have also established fear as a genetically informed trait, and people differ in their underlying fear dispositions. Here we propose these differences hold important implications for political preferences, particularly toward out-groups. Using a large sample of related individuals, we find that individuals with a higher degree of social fear have more negative out-group opinions, which, in this study, manifest as anti-immigration and prosegregation attitudes. We decompose the covariation between social fear and attitudes and find the principal pathway by which the two are related is through a shared genetic foundation. Our findings present a novel mechanism explicating how fear manifests as out-group attitudes and accounts for some portion of the genetic influences on political attitudes.

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