The Cycle   |  October 14, 2013

Nature or nurture? How DNA may guide our vote

With America at a fundamental divide when it comes to governing, are we simply at an intellectual crossroads – or is there something deeper at work?

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, kick the can down the road kind of way. sounds familiar. here's what we do know, there's a fundamental divide in america when it comes to funding. is there something deeper at work? that's something our next guest focused on. it is half genetic. holding a doctor at in evolution nar anthropology and author of "our political nature." i want to hear what you have to say but i'm a little skeptical and want to you use your research and tell me where i'm wrong. i feel like our political leanings are completely about nurture, where we grew up and who we grew up and look at the history of black people in our voting tendencies post lincoln, we were very republican for obvious reasons. then when fdr introduces the new deal, we change almost completely to become democrats and the democratic identification for black people has grown more and moreover time. certainly there was no genetic change . there was just sort of change in politics and change in nurture and understanding how the parties would react to us. your ideas on how genetics rather than nurture factors into this this.

>> thank you very much for having me tour'e, study after study shows that between 40 and 60% of the variation in our political attitudes comes from genetic differences between individuals but the rest does come from environment and history and culture. so to answer your other question, over time the different parties change and the sense of words changes but we shouldn't conflict that with ideologies. so different parties espouse different ideologies even though their names and their followers change over time .

>> yeah.

>> and you write about sort of three personality clusters. you talk about tribalism, authority, and inequality. explain how much in your view of the research is innate and how much develops? we know humans and primates have a sense of fairness in studies. how much that comes from the innate place versus what they learn from being in society?

>> as i mentioned, 40 to 60% of this variation in our political attitudes comes from genetic differences. as you pointed out, throughout the book i show how there are similar behavior in nonhuman primates and how this relates to our evolution nar history as a species.

>> avi, one thing that's interesting and incredibly frustrating to observe in american politics , we've had this asymmetry in terms of dysfunction in washington. you have the extreme right represented through the tea party but we also had a pretty far left movement in reaction to the economic collapse occupy wall street . they don't have any political representation . is there sort sort of evolution nar explanation for why the far right got involved in politics and the far left stayed outside of it?

>> that is a very interesting question, krystal, from country to country the political spectrum has an essential underlying structure that remains the same and you can see this is true when you think of certain controversial issues like gay marriage , for example. invariably polarize spectrums everyone in the same way. despite these commonalties political spectrums are flexible in a number of ways. for one example, when people are exposed to economic stress, political spectrums have a tendency to expand. they do so in both directions. and people polarize in function of their predispositions. so if people are a little bit leaning to the left, they'll go further. in the fallout of the 2008 global financial crisis here, and the far left we saw the emergence here in the united states of the occupy wall street movement, and at the same time, to the far right of the conventional republican party , we saw the tea party movement come about. now as you mentioned there is an asymmetry. the tea party movement was able to elect legislators to our lower house of congress and this is one of factors that's contributed to the extreme political polarization that we're dealing with right now. this could be just a historical historical -- or it's possible that there are different personality traits that are common on both of these extremes. in particular, different attitudes towards authority could play into this. i think you've noticed it there was a strain of an arcism that ran through the tea party --

>> so they would be sort of opposed to getting involved in government because of that leaning.

>> it's interesting. it seems like we're ignoring the fact that there is a broad middle that exists today in a recent survey, the nbc esquire survey, the argument we hear there is no middle ground between left and right. that's actually wrong. and in fact, i think it says, 51% of the ee lector at falls in the middle but i often feel alone. tour'e tells me i'm on a island that no one is in the middle of. do you think there is around 51 that find themselves in the middle? if that's the case, where the heck are these people and why do we find smaller groups on the far ends with the narrative.

>> how wrong is tour'e?

>> tour'e is 100% correct.

>> thank you, sir, you're coming back.

>> i'm all alone, i guess.

>> you're not alone. political spectrums form a natural bell shaped curve means most are in the middle. there's a whole other spectrum that runs through public opinion in addition to left/right attitudes, a spectrum of political co-herance, when you look at political elites and people with greater levels of interest or education, they tend to have more stable, more coherent political altitudes over time .

>> it sounds like i'm better educated than tour'e?

>> hopefully obama care with help me with that. up next, how to successful ask for and get what you want. i can think of some folks who can use that advice right now. abby i'm looking at you. [ male