Social Justice Research

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 381–407 | Cite as

The Role of Genes and Environments in Linking the Need to Evaluate with Political Ideology and Political Extremity

  • Aleksander KsiazkiewiczEmail author
  • Robert F. Krueger


Understanding the origins of political ideology and political extremity at the individual level is becoming increasingly pressing in the face of polarization in the political domain. Building upon the motivated social cognition model of political ideology, we propose a motivated cognition approach to the study of political extremity with the need to evaluate as a key epistemic motive that contributes to political extremity. Moreover, we hypothesize that the link between the need to evaluate and political extremity may rest largely on shared genetic effects. This hypothesis builds upon existing biology and politics research, which has convincingly demonstrated that genes influence the direction of ideology, but has been largely silent on the role of genes in political extremity. To test our hypothesis, we consider several types of ideological, affective, and partisan extremity alongside conventional measures of political ideology and the need to evaluate in a behavioral genetic framework. Using a twin study methodology, we show for the first that the need to evaluate is heritable, that its phenotypic relationships with ideological extremity and strength are rooted in shared genetic influences, and, unexpectedly, that the relationship between the need to evaluate and some forms of political extremity is largely environmental. In examining the genetic and environmental components of the covariation of the need to evaluate with political ideology and right wing authoritarianism, we find limited support for shared genetic influences. Taken together, these results illustrate the value of adopting a biologically informed motivated cognition approach to the study of political ideology and political extremity.


Need to evaluate Ideology Political extremity Twin study Genetics Motivated cognition 



This study was funded, in part, by the Rice Social Science Research Institute. The remainder of the study was crowd-funded through the SciFund Challenge.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz declares that he has no conflict of interest. Robert F. Krueger declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

11211_2017_292_MOESM1_ESM.docx (57 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 56 kb)


  1. Alford, John, Funk, Carolyn, & Hibbing, John. (2005). Are political orientations genetically transmitted? American Political Science Review, 99(2), 153–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altemeyer, B. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.Google Scholar
  3. Altemeyer, B. (1998). The other ‘‘authoritarian personality’’. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 30, 47–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Amodio, D. M., Jost, J. T., Master, S. L., & Yee, C. M. (2007). Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism. Nature Neuroscience, 10, 1246–1247.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Ansolabehere, S., Rodden, J., & Snyder, J. M., Jr. (2008). The strength of issues: Using multiple measures to gauge preference stability, ideological constraint, and issue voting. American Political Science Review, 102(2), 215–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bakker, B. N., & Lelkes, Y. (2016). Selling ourselves short? How abbreviated measures of personality change the way think about personality and politics. Working paper. Retrieved from
  7. Barber, M., & McCarty, N. (2015). Causes and Consequences of Polarization. In N. Persily (Ed.), Solutions to political polarization in America (pp. 15–58). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bell, E., Schermer, J. A., & Vernon, P. A. (2009). The origins of political attitudes and behaviours: An analysis using twins. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 42(04), 855–879.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bizer, G. Y., Krosnick, J. A., Holbrook, A. L., Wheeler, S. C., Rucker, D., & Petty, R. E. (2004). The impact of personality on cognitive, behavioral, and affective political processes: The effects of the need to evaluate. Journal of Personality, 72, 995–1027.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Boker, S., Neale, M., Maes, H., Wilde, M., Spiegel, M., Brick, T., et al. (2011). OpenMx: An open source extended structural equation modeling framework. Psychometrika, 76(2), 306–317.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Bouchard, T. J., Jr., & McGue, M. (2003). Genetic and environmental influences on human psychological differences. Journal of Neurobiology, 54(1), 4–45.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Carney, D. R., Jost, J. T., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2008). The secret lives of liberals and conservatives: Personality profiles, interaction styles, and the things they leave behind. Political Psychology, 29(6), 807–840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chong, D., & Druckman, J. N. (2010). Dynamic public opinion: Communication effects over time. American Political Science Review, 104, 663–680. doi: 10.1017/S0003055410000493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cohen, G. L. (2003). Party over policy: The dominating impact of group influence on political beliefs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(5), 808–822. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.5.808.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Converse, Philip E. (1964). The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In D. E. Apter (Ed.), Ideology and discontent. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  16. Crowson, H. M. (2009). Are all conservatives alike? A study of the psychological correlates of cultural and economic conservatism. The Journal of Psychology, 143(5), 449–463.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Druckman, J. N., Peterson, E., & Slothuus, R. (2013). How elite partisan polarization affects public opinion formation. American Political Science Review, 107(1), 57–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Druckman, J. N., & Leeper, T. J. (2012). Learning more from political communication experiments: Pretreatment and its effects. American Journal of Political Science, 56(4), 875–896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dvir-Gvirsman, S. (2014). One-track minds? Cognitive needs, media diet, and overestimation of public support for one’s views. Media Psychology, 18(4), 475–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fazekas, Z., & Littvay, L. (2015). The importance of context in the genetic transmission of US party identification. Political Psychology, 36(4), 361–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Federico, C. M. (2004). Predicting attitude extremity: The interactive effects of schema development and the need to evaluate—and their mediation by evaluative integration. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1281–1294.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Federico, C. M. (2007). Expertise, evaluative motivation, and the structure of citizens’ ideological commitments. Political Psychology, 28, 535–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Federico, C. M., & Hunt, C. V. (2013). Political information, political involvement, and reliance on ideology in political evaluation. Political Behavior, 35, 89–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Federico, C. M., & Schneider, M. (2007). Political expertise and the use of ideology: Moderating effects of evaluative motivation. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71, 221–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Feldman, S. (2013). Political ideology. In L. Huddy, D.O. Sears, & J.S. Levy (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of political psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199760107.013.0019.
  26. Feldman, S., & Johnston, C. (2014). Understanding the determinants of political ideology: Implications of structural complexity. Political Psychology, 35(3), 337–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Friesen, A., & Ksiazkiewicz, A. (2015). Do political attitudes and religiosity share a genetic path? Political Behavior, 37(4), 791–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gerber, A. S., Huber, G. A., Doherty, D., Dowling, C. M., & Ha, S. E. (2010). Personality and political attitudes: Relationships across issue domains and political contexts. American Political Science Review, 104(1), 111–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 1029–1046.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Hatemi, P. K., Funk, C. L., Medland, S. E., Maes, H. M., Silberg, J. L., Martin, N. G., et al. (2009). Genetic and environmental transmission of political attitudes over a life time. Journal of Politics, 71(3), 1141–1156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hatemi, P. K., Gillespie, N. A., Eaves, L. J., Maher, B. S., Webb, B. T., Heath, A. C., et al. (2011). A genome-wide analysis of liberal and conservative political attitudes. Journal of Politics, 73(1), 271–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hatemi, P. K., Medland, S. E., Klemmensen, R., Oskarsson, S., Littvay, L., Dawes, C. T., et al. (2014). Genetic influences on political ideologies: Twin analyses of 19 measures of political ideologies from five democracies and genome-wide findings from three populations. Behavior Genetics, 44(3), 282–294.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. Hatemi, P. K., & Verhulst, B. (2015). Political attitudes develop independently of personality traits. PLoS ONE, 10(3), e0118106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118106.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Hetherington, M. J., & Rudolph, T. J. (2015). Why Washington won’t work: Polarization, political trust, and the governing crisis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hetherington, M. J., & Weiler, J. D. (2009). Authoritarianism and polarization in American politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hibbing, J. R., Smith, K. B., & Alford, J. R. (2014). Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(3), 297–307.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Hirsh, J. B., DeYoung, C. G., Xu, X., & Peterson, J. B. (2010). Compassionate liberals and polite conservatives: Associations of agreeableness with political ideology and moral values. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 655–664.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Inbar, Y., Pizarro, D. A., & Bloom, P. (2009). Conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals. Cognition and Emotion, 23, 714–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Inbar, Y., Pizarro, D., Iyer, R., & Haidt, J. (2012). Disgust sensitivity, political conservatism, and voting. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(5), 537–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Iyengar, S., Sood, G., & Lelkes, Y. (2012). Affect, not ideology: A social identity perspective on polarization. Public Opinion Quarterly, 76(3), 405–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Iyengar, S., & Westwood, S. J. (2015). Fear and loathing across party lines: New evidence on group polarization. American Journal of Political Science, 59(3), 690–707.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Jarvis, W. B. G., & Petty, R. E. (1996). The need to evaluate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 172–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jost, J. T. (2006). The end of the end of ideology. American Psychologist, 61(7), 651–670.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Jost, J. T., Federico, C. M., & Napier, J. L. (2009). Political ideology: Its structure, functions and elective affinities. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 307–337.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Jost, J. T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A. W., & Sulloway, F. J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 129(3), 339–375.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Jost, J. T., Kay, A. C., & Thorisdottir, H. (Eds.). (2009). Social and psychological bases of ideology and system justification. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Jost, J. T., Kruglanski, A. W., & Simon, L. (1999). Effects of epistemic motivation on conservatism, intolerance and other system-justifying attitudes. In L. I. Thompson, J. M. Levine, & D. M. Messick (Eds.), Shared cognition in organizations: The management of knowledge (pp. 91–116). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  48. Jost, J. T., Nam, H. H., Amodio, D. M., & Van Bavel, J. J. (2014). Political neuroscience: The beginning of a beautiful friendship. Political Psychology, 35, 3–42. doi: 10.1111/pops.12162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Jost, J. T., Napier, J. L., Thorisdottir, H., Gosling, S. D., Palfai, T. P., & Ostafin, B. (2007). Are needs to manage uncertainty and threat associated with political conservatism or ideological extremity? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 989–1007.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Jost, J. T., Nosek, B. A., & Gosling, S. D. (2008). Ideology: Its resurgence in social, personality, and political psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(2), 126–136.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Kandler, C., Bleidorn, W., & Riemann, R. (2012). Left or right? Sources of political orientation: The roles of genetic factors, cultural transmission, assortative mating, and personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(3), 633–645.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Kemmelmeier, M. (1997). Need for closure and political orientation among German university students. Journal of Social Psychology, 137, 787–789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Krosnick, J. A., Boninger, D. S., Chuang, Y. C., Berent, M. K., & Carnot, C. G. (1993). Attitude strength: One construct or many related constructs? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(6), 1132–1151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ksiazkiewicz, A., Ludeke, S., & Krueger, R. (2016). The role of cognitive style in the link between genes and political ideology. Political Psychology. doi: 10.1111/pops.12318.Google Scholar
  55. Leader Maynard, J., & Mildenberger, M. (2016). Convergence and divergence in the study of ideology: A critical review. British Journal of Political Science. doi: 10.1017/S0007123415000654.Google Scholar
  56. Leeper, T. J. (2014). Cognitive style and the survey response. Public Opinion Quarterly, 78(4), 974–983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ludeke, S. G., Johnson, W., & Bouchard, T. J., Jr. (2013). “Obedience to traditional authority:” A heritable factor underlying authoritarianism, conservatism and religiousness. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(4), 375–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Malka, A., Soto, C. J., Inzlicht, M., & Lelkes, Y. (2014). Do needs for security and certainty predict cultural and economic conservatism? A cross-national analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 1031–1051.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Mason, L. (2015). “I Disrespectfully Agree”: The differential effects of partisan sorting on social and issue polarization. American Journal of Political Science, 59(1), 128–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McCarty, N., Poole, K. T., & Rosenthal, H. (2006). Polarized America: The dance of ideology and unequal riches. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  61. Medland, S. E., & Hatemi, P. K. (2009). Political science, biometric theory, and twin studies: A methodological introduction. Political Analysis, 17(2), 191–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mondak, J. J. (2010). Personality and the foundations of political behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Nir, L. (2011). Motivated reasoning and public opinion perception. Public Opinion Quarterly, 75(3), 504–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Osborne, D., Wootton, L. W., & Sibley, C. G. (2013). Are liberals agreeable or not? Politeness and compassion differentially predict political conservatism via distinct ideologies. Social Psychology, 44, 354–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Oskarsson, S., Cesarini, D., Dawes, C. T., Fowler, J. H., Johannesson, M., Magnusson, P. K. E., et al. (2015). Linking genes and political orientations: Testing the cognitive ability as media hypothesis. Political Psychology, 36(6), 649–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Oxley, D. R., Smith, K. B., Alford, J. R., Hibbing, M. V., Miller, J. L., Scalora, M., et al. (2008). Political attitudes vary with physiological traits. Science, 321(5896), 1667–1670.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Prior, M. (2013). Media and political polarization. Annual Review of Political Science, 16, 101–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Redlawsk, D. P. (2002). Hot cognition or cool consideration? Testing the effects of motivated reasoning on political decision making. Journal of Politics, 64, 1021–1044. doi: 10.1111/1468-2508.00161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rico, G., & Jennings, M. K. (2016). The formation of left-right identification: Pathways and correlates of parental influence. Political Psychology, 37(2), 237–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sargent, M. J. (2004). Less thought, more punishment: Need for cognition predicts support for punitive responses to crime. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(11), 1485–1493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Schwartz, S. H. (1994). Are there universal aspects in the structure and contents of human values? Journal of Social Issues, 50(4), 19–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Settle, J. E., Dawes, C. T., & Fowler, J. H. (2009). The heritability of partisan attachment. Political Research Quarterly, 62(3), 601–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Sibley, C. G., Osborne, D., & Duckitt, J. (2012). Personality and political orientation: Meta-analysis and test of a threat-constraint model. Journal of Research in Personality, 46(6), 664–677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sidanius, J. (1988). Political sophistication and political deviance: A structural equation examination of context theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 37–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Smith, K. B., Oxley, D., Hibbing, M. V., Alford, J. R., & Hibbing, J. R. (2011). Disgust sensitivity and the neurophysiology of left-right political orientations. PLoS ONE, 6(10), e25552. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025552.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  76. Stoker, L., & Bass, J. (2013). Political socialization: Ongoing questions and new directions. In G. C. Edwards, L. R. Jacobs, & R. Y. Shapiro (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of American public opinion and the media. New York: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199545636.003.0028.
  77. Taber, C. S., & Lodge, M. (2006). Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs. American Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 755–769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Terrizzi, J. A., Jr., Shook, N. J., & Ventis, W. L. (2010). Disgust: A predictor of social conservatism and prejudicial attitudes toward homosexuals. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 587–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Thurber, J. A., & Yoshinaka, A. (2016). American gridlock: The sources, character, and impact of political polarization. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  80. Verhulst, B., Eaves, L. J., & Hatemi, P. K. (2012). Correlation not causation: The relationship between personality traits and political ideologies. American Journal of Political Science, 56(1), 34–51.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  81. Wilson, G. D., & Patterson, J. R. (1968). A new measure of conservatism. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 7(4), 264–269.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  82. Xu, X., Mar, R. A., & Peterson, J. B. (2013). Does cultural exposure partially explain the association between personality and political orientation? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 1497–1517.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Xu, X., Plaks, J. E., & Peterson, J. B. (2016). From dispositions to goals to ideology: Toward a synthesis of personality and social psychological approaches to political orientation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10(5), 267–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Zakrisson, I. (2005). Construction of a short version of the Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 39, 863–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbanaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

Personalised recommendations