Study: 'Views On Abortion, Death Penalty, Euthanasia Linked To Genes'

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - Attitudes to abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia may be genetically inherited, according to a new study by Canadian researchers.

Research carried out on 336 pairs of identical and non-identical adult twins asked to describe their attitudes toward a wide range of issues found that many - 26 out of 30 attitudes - could be partly put down to genetic influences.

They were asked to answer questions such as "My overall attitude toward doing crossword puzzles is ..." with a choice of answers ranging from extremely favorable to extremely unfavorable.

"By comparing the responses to attitude questions between the identical and fraternal twins, we were able to determine which attitudes were more influenced by genetic factors," said Dr Jim Olson, head of psychology at the University of Western Ontario.

Because identical twins have the same genes they should also share any genetically-determined traits, irrespective of outside influences like upbringing, personal experience and social pressures.

According to a release from the university, Olson and his team discovered that some attitudes showed a genetic connection, most strongly found in attitudes toward abortion, the death penalty, reading, playing sport - and even whether one enjoys roller coaster rides.

Other attitudes were found to have no apparent genetic connection, including attitudes toward separate roles for men and women, assertiveness, and easy access to birth control methods.

The scientists said that attitudes are learnt, but differences may arise in part because of our genetic makeup. Their findings were published Tuesday in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Olson's team found apparent trends. Genetically-inherited attitudes seemed most likely to be those involving the preservation of life, equality and athleticism. Intellectual activities such as reading and playing chess seemed least likely to be influenced by genes.

The authors said there was doubt about the extent to which our genes directly affect how we look at issues. Other factors may play a role, including personality traits and physical ability.

"For example, a person with inherited physical abilities such as good coordination and strength might be more successful at sports than less athletically inclined people, resulting in the more athletic person having more favorable attitudes towards sports," Olson said.

When it comes to traditionally conservative values, they seem more strongly linked to genes than others.

"Conservatism with a small 'c' is heritable," Olson was quoted as saying. "We do not know precisely why, but there is a definite link."

"Attitudes towards the preservation of life determined how people felt about the death penalty, voluntary euthanasia, organized religion and abortion without restrictions."

On attitudes toward matters grouped under "equality," the twins were asked their views on such matters as immigration policies and racial discrimination.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow