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

Authors


  • The data for this article were collected with the financial support of the National Institute of Health AA-06781 and MH-40828 (PI: Eaves). Data analysis was supported by NIH Grant 5R25DA026119 (PI: Neale). To obtain a copy of the data for replication, please go to http://polisci.la.psu.edu/facultybios/hatemi.html. The authors would like to thank John Jost and the members of his lab for useful comments in the preparation of this manuscript. Any errors of interpretation are, of course, our own.

Brad Verhulst is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Richmond, VA 23298-980003 (brad.verhulst@gmail.com). Lindon J. Eaves is Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Richmond, VA 23298-980003 (eaves.lindon@gmail.com). Peter K. Hatemi is Associate Professor of Political Science and Microbiology at The Pennsylvania State University and Research Fellow at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney, 307 Pond Lab, University Park, PA 16802 (phatemi@gmail.com).

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.

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