Can genetics explain political partisanship?

Supporters hold up signs at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Image copyright Getty Images

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New research published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences shows growing support for the theory that nurture may not be as powerful as nature when it comes to partisanship.

"A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology and even traits like physiology and genetics," writes Chris Mooney for Mother Jones.

The debate took the scientific limelight this month when University of Nebraska political scientist John Hibbing published a paper arguing that political conservatives have a "negativity bias". He found that conservative thinkers are more physiologically sensitive to negative stimuli, such as the image of a frightened woman with a large spider on her face.

Through experiments with monitoring devices such as eye trackers, Mr Hibbing measured the various involuntary responses of liberals and conservatives to certain imagery. He found that conservatives have faster responses to threatening stimuli than their liberal counterparts.

Findings such as these, says Mooney, challenge our very understanding of political opinion. It alters "the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests", and it calls into question "the notion that in politics, we can really change".

The interesting revelation from Mr Hibbing's research on what divides us is that his results are not that divisive.

The peer review process of Behavioral and Brain Sciences allows for the scientific community to publicly share their opinions on published material. Although these written responses often illustrate the divisiveness of a topic, in the case of Mr Hibbing's research about 23 peer reviewers accepted his general premise, whereas only three appeared to reject it.

Mooney says that research like this could potentially help Americans transcend the current political impasses.

"We still operate in politics and in media as if minds can be changed by the best-honed arguments, the most compelling facts," writes Mooney. "And yet if our political opponents are simply perceiving the world differently, that idea starts to crumble. Out of the rubble just might arise a better way of acting in politics that leads to less dysfunction and less gridlock…thanks to science".


Iron Dome in Israel hindering solution between Israel and Palestine - Gaza missiles are becoming less threatening for Israelis due to what the Israeli Army says is a 90% success rate of their anti-missile system.

Iron Dome, which protects Israelis from Palestinian rockets, could be giving citizens of Israel a false sense of security, according to historian Yoav Fromer.

"Since Iron Dome has transformed a grim reality into a rather bearable ordeal, Israelis have lost the sense of urgency and outrage that might have pushed their government to make painful if necessary concessions in exchange for peace," he writes in the Washington Post.

If Israel continues to rely on the Iron Dome as a long-term solution, they could eventually face a threat technology won't protect them from, Fromer warns.


Germans celebrate more than just a football revival - Germany's World Cup win is in tune with the country's resurgence as a whole, according to Bloomberg View's Leonid Bershidsky.

"Germans are meticulous in most things they do, so they have a training programme for bureaucrats who want to win EU posts," he writes. "That's how they won at the World Cup, too, patiently building up a training and management system that eventually bore fruit."

Diverse football fans across Germany celebrated the World Cup win on Sunday, but Bershidsky suspects the victory signifies a much larger triumph for Germany.

The win was a sign of "a new, non-threatening pride and confidence that Germany has allowed itself to feel now that it is finally one strong country again," writes Bershidsky.


Political life after football defeat - Brazil's World Cup loss against Germany has sparked dissatisfaction towards the country's leader, Dilma Rousseff, but despite dour forecasts the defeat has not extinguished her chances of re-election, says Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer. For instance, she has several coming opportunities to look presidential and cast herself as a world leader.

"First, Rousseff was scheduled to host at least 15 heads of state - including the leaders of China, Russia, Germany, South Africa and several Latin American countries - for the World Cup final and an ensuing 15 July summit of the Bric countries, the group of emerging powers made up of China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil."

The Brazilian president will also have twice as much television time as her rivals, is politically connected to former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and has the backing of supporters of her Bosla Familia subsidies, a programme that helps millions of Brazil's poorest families, according to Oppenheimer.

"My opinion: If Rousseff's chances to win re-election were of 60% or 70% before last week's soccer debacle, I would put them at 51% now. It's going to be a much tighter election than it looked before the World Cup, but - for now - I still expect her to win by a hair," writes Oppenheimer.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to improve military - India is strengthening its military by increasing its defence spending by 14% and its foreign investment limits on the domestic arms industry by 23%, says the America Interest's Walter Russell Mead.

"To remain competitive, India needs to replace its Cold War era, Soviet-made hardware with modern weapons, including ships, planes and guns."

They are also improving their military because of concerns about China's military and economic presence in India, as well as the domestic disorder in neighbouring Pakistan.

He says there are a couple of caveats, however:

"India's increased military budget, at just under $40b (£23.3b), is still less than a third of China's. So while India continues to play catch-up, it still has a long way to go. Also, the expansion of the military budget certainly won't ease relations between India and Pakistan, which already share one of the most militarised borders on earth."

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

Russian media speculate on growing doubts over Russia's participation in the world's biggest aerospace industry event after the country's deputy prime minister urged its delegates to pack up and go home.

"If someone buys our products, they will continue to do so regardless of the problems that Russian participants are facing at Farnborough.'' - Editor in chief of the Air Transportation Review Aleksey Sinitskiy in Novyye Izvestiya.

"Russia has never been a welcome guest there. We have practically no buyers at the forum and never had. Malaysia and India are more important to us - our customers are there, while at Farnborough the key players are only Airbus and Boeing.'' - Olga Bozhyeva in Moskovskiy Komsomolets.

"Moscow-London flights are full. There are enough visitors at Russian stands at Farnborough.'' - Igor Chernyak in state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta.‎

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