The Role of Cognitive Style in the Link Between Genes and Political Ideology

Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz, Steven Ludeke, Robert Krueger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


There is growing interest in how genes affect political beliefs. To better understand the role of genes in politics, we examine the relationship between cognitive style (the need for cognition, the need for cognitive closure) and various measures of political attitudes (issue-based ideology, identity-based ideology, social ideology, economic ideology, authoritarianism, and egalitarianism). We show, for the first time, that the need for cognition and the need for cognitive closure are heritable and are linked to political ideology primarily, perhaps solely, because of shared genetic influences; these links are stronger for social than economic ideology. Although prior research demonstrated that Openness to Experience shares genetic variance with political ideology, we find that these measures of cognitive style account for distinct genetic variance in political ideology. Moreover, the genetic Openness-ideology link is fully accounted for by the need for cognition. This combination of findings provides a clearer understanding of the role of genes in political beliefs and suggests new directions for research on Big Five personality traits and ideology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-776
Number of pages16
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The 2012 data employed in this project were collected with the financial support of the Social Science Research Institute at Rice University and from generous donations collected through the SciFund Challenge. The 2008 data were collected with the financial support of the National Science Foundation in the form of SES-0721378, PI: John R. Hibbing; Co-PIs: John R. Alford, Lindon J. Eaves, Carolyn L. Funk, Peter K. Hatemi, and Kevin B. Smith. All data were collected with the cooperation of the Minnesota Twin Registry at the University of Minnesota, Robert Krueger and Matthew McGue, Directors. The authors are also grateful for feedback and comments from their colleagues, the participants of the conferences at which this research was presented, and the reviewers and editors. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz, Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 420 David Kinley Hall MC-713, 1407 W Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801. E-mail:

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 International Society of Political Psychology


  • biopolitics
  • cognitive style
  • genes
  • ideology
  • personality
  • twin study


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