New evidence that many genes of small effect influence economic decisions and political attitudes

May 15, 2012

Genetic factors explain some of the variation in a wide range of people's political attitudes and economic decisions – such as preferences toward environmental policy and financial risk taking – but most associations with specific genetic variants are likely to be very small, according to a new study led by Cornell University economics professor Daniel Benjamin.

The research team arrived at the conclusion after studying a sample of about 3,000 subjects with comprehensive genetic data and information on economic and political preferences. The researchers report their findings in "The Genetic Architecture of Economic and Political Preferences," published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, May 7, 2012.

The study showed that unrelated people who happen to be more similar genetically also have more similar attitudes and preferences. This finding suggests that genetic data - taken as a whole – could eventually be moderately predictive of economic and . The study also found evidence that the effects of individual genetic variants are tiny, and these variants are scattered across the genome. Given what is currently known, the molecular genetic data has essentially no predictive power for the 10 traits studied, which included preferences toward environmental policy, foreign affairs, financial risk and economic fairness.

This conclusion is at odds with dozens of previous papers that have reported large genetic associations with such traits, but the present study included ten times more participants than the previous studies.

"An implication of our findings is that most published associations with political and economic outcomes are probably false positives. These studies are implicitly based on the incorrect assumption that there are common genetic variants with large effects," said Benjamin. "If you want to find genetic variants that account for some of the differences between people in their economic and political behavior, you need samples an order of magnitude larger than those presently used," he added.

The research team concluded that it may be more productive in future research to focus on behaviors that are more closely linked to specific biological systems, such as nicotine addiction, obesity, and emotional reactivity, and are therefore likely to have stronger associations with specific genetic variants.

Explore further: Genetic risks for type 2 diabetes span multiple ethnicities

Related Stories

Genetic risks for type 2 diabetes span multiple ethnicities

February 9, 2012
A recent large and comprehensive analysis of 50,000 genetic variants across 2,000 genes linked to cardiovascular and metabolic function has identified four genes associated with type 2 diabetes (T2D) and six independent disease-associated ...

Testosterone concentrations in men affected by genetic makeup

October 6, 2011
Genetics play an important role in the variation in, and risk of, low testosterone concentrations in men. A study by the CHARGE Sex Hormone Consortium, published in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics on Thursday, 6th October, ...

New genetic risk factors of lupus found in study of African-American women

June 24, 2011
Researchers from Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center have found four new genetic variants in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) that confer a higher risk of systemic lupus erythemathosus ("lupus") in African ...

Is short stature associated with a 'shortage' of genes?

November 23, 2011
New research sifts through the entire genome of thousands of human subjects to look for genetic variation associated with height. The results of the study, published by Cell Press in the December issue of the American Journal ...

Recommended for you

New clues to treat Alagille syndrome from zebrafish

October 18, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) identifies potential new therapeutic avenues for patients with Alagille syndrome. The discovery, published in Nature Communications, ...

Genetic variants associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder identified

October 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—An international team of researchers has found evidence of four genes that can be linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the group ...

An architect gene is involved in the assimilation of breast milk

October 17, 2017
A family of "architect" genes called Hox coordinates the formation of organs and limbs during embryonic life. Geneticists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), ...

Study identifies genes responsible for diversity of human skin colors

October 12, 2017
Human populations feature a broad palette of skin tones. But until now, few genes have been shown to contribute to normal variation in skin color, and these had primarily been discovered through studies of European populations.

Genes critical for hearing identified

October 12, 2017
Fifty-two previously unidentified genes that are critical for hearing have been found by testing over 3,000 mouse genes. The newly discovered genes will provide insights into the causes of hearing loss in humans, say scientists ...

Team completes atlas of human DNA differences that influence gene expression

October 11, 2017
Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have completed a detailed atlas documenting the stretches of human DNA that influence gene expression - a key way in which a person's genome gives rise to an observable ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.