According to a new study published in this month's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, our views on things ranging from abortion and racial discrimination to roller coasters and exercise may arise at least in part from our genes.
The study, led by James Olson of the University of Western Ontario, looked at 336 pairs of both fraternal and identical adult twins. The researchers asked the twins 30 different opinion questions and then compared how much the answers of fraternal twins differed from those of identical ones. They concluded that genetics played some role in cases in which identical twins gave the same or similar answers and fraternal twins did not. The questions addressed many topics, including abortion, euthanasia, religion, equality, athleticism and intellectual pursuits.
According to the study, 26 of the 30 questions showed a correlation indicating a possible genetic link. Most closely linked were attitudes toward reading books, abortion without restrictions, the death penalty for murder, playing organized sports and an affinity or dislike for roller coaster rides. The authors admit that unique experiences of each individual are the most profound influence on a person's attitudes and that a direct gene-to-attitude link is very unlikely. Rather, certain broad inheritable character traits make people more prone to hold certain views. "For example, individuals with naturally good coordination and strength might have been more successful at sports than less athletically inclined individuals," the researchers write, "with the result that the former individuals developed more favorable attitudes toward sports than did the latter."